The Stuff Legends Are Made Of
by Lynn Ames
Copyright © 2003
"Hey, Julie, you're up kiddo. I'll take care of your order; don't worry about it."
The scene in the diner was pure bedlam: just another ordinary day. Ellen's Stardust Diner, at 51st and Broadway in Manhattan, was perpetually packed. With its retro-1950's dÈcor, nostalgia memorabilia and singing waiters, it attracted tourists in droves.
Blonde-haired, emerald-eyed Julie Fontana placed the Cherry Coke in front of one of her customers and winked. "I'll be right back. It's my turn to sing."
Grabbing the microphone, she moved to the center of the bustling eatery, easily shifting into performance mode. By the time she heard the first few notes of the song playing, it was too late to do anything but become the entertainer she was born to be. She closed her eyes, willing her legs to stop shaking as the first notes of "Hopelessly Devoted to You" filled the air. The song, from the 1978 smash movie musical and Broadway show Grease, was one she intentionally avoided because it brought back times she knew she'd spend a lifetime trying to forget:
"Guess mine is not the first heart broken, my eyes are not the first to cry. I'm not the first to know, there's just no getting over you..."
"You have a beautiful voice. It suits you."
Julie looked up into eyes the color of a bright summer sky. "I...I'm sorry, I didn't see you coming."
"Don't be; I'm certainly not. It's not everyday I get serenaded on my movie set by a gorgeous woman."
Julie blushed scarlet, her heart hammering in her chest. From the moment she landed the part in this film, her stomach had been filled with butterflies. She'd heard stories about the talented, mercurial director Morgan Ensler, but none of them had prepared her for this. The woman was flawless: six feet tall with a long mane of jet-black hair, electric blue eyes and high, chiseled cheekbones. Her body was lean, with well-defined muscles, and she moved with unconscious grace.
"I'm Morgan, and you must be Julie Fontana. Your screen test doesn't do you justice. I hope I can capture even a little of your energy and personality on film. If I do, all of America will fall in love with you. I'm pretty sure I already have, and I've only just met you." Her smile was brilliant.
At first, Julie thought it was merely a clever way to boost her ego. It was a game many directors played to get the best performance they could from their stars. But, in a very short time, she came to find out that Morgan was as straightforward and honest as the day was long. She meant what she had said.
Within weeks the actress and director were deeply in love, spending every spare minute together. Morgan was attentive, fun, gentle, kind, and a magnificent lover. Julie had never been happier; she knew she had found her soulmate. And, what was more, she thought Morgan felt the same way...
No, she couldn't go back there, not again, not now. After half a decade, it still brought her to her knees to think about. "Let it go, Julie, you've got a job to do here."
"Hopelessly devoted to you..."
The song ended amid clattering dishes, a chorus of cheers and whistles raining down on her. Julie curtsied graciously and made a hasty exit to the bathroom, where she promptly vomited.
When she returned to her workstation, she found that she had a visitor.
"Well, you did say you needed some work..." The agent gave her his best engaging smile. "Look, Jules, you inexplicably turned your back on a successful movie career that any actress would have killed for."
"Bill..." There it was, the warning tone that told him to back off.
He let out a frustrated breath. "Look, sweetheart, you can't spend the rest of your life waiting around for another big break, on Broadway, no less. Singing your heart out at Ellen's Stardust Diner in between dishing out helpings of meatloaf and mashed potatoes, while noble, is getting you nowhere. At least this gig pays something and offers some drama."
Julie sighed heavily, dropping her head dejectedly and running her fingertips over the Formica countertop. "I know, Bill, but this is hardly what I'd call a classy acting job. Riding around the streets of some suburb in the middle of the night. And, if that's not bad enough, I'll be in a Hessian soldier's Revolutionary War-era costume, on a stallion, carrying my åhead' under my arm. They won't even be able to see my face."
"Jules, order's up...Hurry up, the customers are waiting!"
"I know it's not what you wanted, Jules, but it pays well, and it might be fun scaring the suburban housewives and kids. And besides, you don't even have to travel far...it's just 30 miles north of here."
"I'll do it for you, Bill, but don't expect me to be happy about it."
He laughed, certain this beautiful, green-eyed woman, with the sunny disposition would never let him down. "That's my girl. I knew I could count on you." Secretly, he was relieved; five years after she walked away from Hollywood superstardom not many folks were willing to take a chance on his client. This little pissant role was the first he'd been able to secure without having to offer a guarantee. He didn't know what he could have done for her if she had turned it down.
"You're walking away? NOW? Julie, you're the hottest actress in Tinseltown. You can name your role and your price. Are you insane??"
He was afraid for her. There was no affect to her words, and her normally vibrant eyes were dull and lifeless. "Why? Can you at least tell me why?"
Every time he asked her that question she cried and waved him away.
Now, five years later, he was still no closer to knowing the answer. Her eyes, he noted sadly, had never regained their trademark sparkle.
"Here's a copy of Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. And here are a couple of website links where you can find out more about the town. Hey, how bad can a place named Sleepy Hollow be?" He leaned down and kissed his client's fair head. "Love you, Jules."
"Yeah, yeah, that's what they all say."
She checked her watch for the tenth time in as many minutes, observing the young girls with their blonde ponytails and riding jodhpurs as they scurried back and forth from the ring to the stables.
The stables smelled like fresh hay and horses, with bodies in motion everywhere, both human and animal. Horses stood in the aisles between stalls, impatiently awaiting their grooming, while riders strode into stalls carrying tack and saddles. Julie felt right at home.
"Ah, Ms. Fontana, is it?"
"Yes," Julie smiled brightly at the severe-looking older woman with the hawk nose and beady black eyes.
"I was told you would be needing to borrow Blackjack for a while. He's a good boy, if a little spirited. Keep a tight rein, but not too tight, and you should be fine. Just make sure he knows you're the boss. Here you go."
The woman had led her to a stall at the end of a row, where the diminutive actress peered in to see a massive black stallion, easily 17 hands high, shaking his head violently and pawing at the ground viciously with his front hoof. She looked back at the woman, tempted to tell her to forget it. But the woman's smug expression made her swallow her apprehension, muster her best self-confident swagger, and say, "I'm sure Blackjack and I will be great friends, right boy?"
Julie smiled, recalling how her passion for horses had begun: At twelve, she had fallen in love with the beasts, begging her parents to buy her one of her very own.
"Please, Mom. Please. I promise I'll take great care of him. I'll muck the stalls and feed him and ride him every day. Please, I've never asked you for anything before."
"Julie, it's just too expensive. We can't afford to stable it and pay for all that feed. And what about your schoolwork and your other activities? What about the drama club and the choir?"
"I'd rather have a horse."
Her father chimed in, "I'm sorry sweetheart, your mother and I have given it a great deal of thought, and it's just not possible. But we made a deal with Mrs. Whitaker down at the stable to rent a beautiful Bay gelding for you."
"Really?" Her eyes lit up like Christmas trees. From that moment she and Blazer became inseparable. Giving up Blazer when she left for college broke her heart.
"I bet you never thought all those hours of riding would pay off this way, Mom." She entered the stall, standing still and allowing Blackjack to approach her in his own time. When he did, she held out an apple she had brought with her. Julie talked to the horse softly as he lipped the fruit, gently lifting it from her palm. Only then did she raise a hand to rub the black stallion on his neck. "Well, I guess it's you and me, kid. Best get moving so we can get used to each other."
Julie wanted to familiarize herself and the horse with the terrain and the surroundings of the route she would take the next night: Halloween. This stunt would be difficult enough in this night's early twilight; adding a costume in which her head would be covered completely by a see-through black stocking would make it nearly impossible. The pitch darkness of mid-to-late Halloween night, with only the moon and streetlights as a guide, would further complicate the task.
"Easy, boy," she cooed as she turned Blackjack into the striking stillness of the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. The sun was just setting and Julie spared a moment to enjoy the splendor of the sight. She decided to ride the animal through the cemetery at a walk, then circle back around and take the route at a gallop, as she would have to do the next night.
She passed by dozens of aging grave markers, wondering to herself about the lives of those laid to rest in this peaceful, if unnerving, setting. Blackjack settled into a comfortable rhythm, rider and horse ambling easily around the perimeter.
Finally, content that they understood one another, Julie took Blackjack through the center of the cemetery, coming to a stop just inside the front gates.
Leaning over, she gave the beast a scratch under his mane and a hug around his neck, whispering praise into his alert ears. "Okay, big guy, time to see what you've got." Julie settled her seat and nudged Blackjack first into a canter and then a full gallop, the wind whipping blonde strands around her face.
Some thirty yards away, hidden behind the shelter of a mausoleum, a pair of ice blue eyes watched the scene with interest.
At 8 p.m. the next night, Julie stood before a mirror making last minute adjustments to her costume. The breeches were skin-tight, as was the fashion of the day; the waistcoat touching her hip bones in front, the tails reaching to the back of her knees. Underneath it all, she wore a speed skater's black Lycra body suit complete with hood. In her hand she carried a sheer black stocking, and on the chair next to where she stood sat a mannequin's head with thick black hair and sporting a tri-cornered hat.
She tried not to show her impatience as Verna, the town historian, prattled on incessantly in her ear about the legend, its origins, and the importance of keeping up the air of mystique around the town and its rich heritage.
"You know, every year we get a group of hooligans that try to ransack the cemetery and desecrate the grave of the headless horseman. Guess no one ever told them that he was just a character Washington Irving made up. I'm positive that Irving fella placed the headstone there, himself, in fact, just to increase interest in his story. Well, that's okay, we certainly don't mind perpetuating the myth. In fact, why just last Halloween old Mrs. Fieldstone told me she lost twenty years off her life when a black cat crossed her path as she was laying flowers at her sister's grave just around sunset. She swore the cat was frightened by something big, maybe even a ghost or restless spirit. Can you imagine?"
Finally, as the clock in the nearby church tower chimed once for the bottom of the hour, Julie gratefully took her leave, sneaking out the back door. One of the stable hands waited there with Blackjack, whose coat gleamed in the reflection from the moonlight. The young man gave her a leg up, and she took a minute to settle the tails of her coat, reacquaint herself with the horse, and get her bearings, before pulling the stocking over her head. She took the fake head from the stable hand, tucking the prop under her arm and bracing it against her side.
"Wow, ma'am. If you don't mind my saying, you sure look convincing to me. Heck, I'm afraid and I know who you are."
"Thanks, Will. That's the idea." She winked at him behind the stocking, and turned the horse toward the main street, where her ride was to begin. In the distance she could hear the sounds of children laughing and joking as they wandered from house to house collecting goodies.
Julie purposely had waited until closer to the 9 o'clock hour so that most of the really young children would be off the streets. She had no desire to be the one who gave permanent nightmares to unsuspecting toddlers. Now teenagers on the other hand... "Heh," she chuckled to herself. "Okay, Blackjack, time to have some fun and earn some money. As if having to listen to Verna for an hour wasn't worth the paycheck in and of itself."
The sound of hoof beats echoed loudly on the restored cobblestone of the main street leading to the cemetery. A fog had begun drifting in off the nearby Hudson River, lending an eerie glow to the surreal scene of a headless horseman galloping down the main street of suburban North Tarrytown, New York, otherwise known as Sleepy Hollow.
As word of apparition sightings spread, heads began to peer out of the windows of cozy houses and the more brazen townsfolk lined the street to catch a glimpse. The bright, full moon helped light the way, and Julie truly was enjoying herself as she turned Blackjack into the cemetery and Patriot's Park.
Visibility was going to be a problem in here, she knew, because the fog already was rising and swirling around the horse's midsection. He was beginning to work up a lather, sweat glistening off his coat and spittle flying out of his mouth as he responded to his mistress's commands. Julie exited the park and headed into the main section of the cemetery, the headstones flying by at an alarming rate.
Suddenly, to her left, she caught a flash of movement. Blackjack noticed it, too, his attention wavering slightly. In the blink of an eye, the air was filled with high-pitched screeching noises and a fog of a different sort appeared in front of rider and animal. The flapping wings of dozens of tiny bats unnerved the horse, who responded by skidding to a halt and rearing, thrusting his front hooves out wildly in an effort to ward off the flying creatures.
Julie grabbed hold of the horse's mane, dropping her "head" on the ground. She tried in vain to gain control by turning the massive animal in a circle, but he was both too strong and too scared to be calmed. The last thing she remembered seeing was a group of teenagers running in the other direction. Then everything went black.
From her vantage point twenty feet away, Morgan Ensler witnessed the entire sickening sequence. "Oh my God. NO!!!" She was in motion before Julie ever hit the ground, arriving a split second too late to prevent the actress from smashing her head into a grave marker on the side of the path.
"Easy boy, that's it. Eeeeassssy. You're all right. Just wait here a second, okay?" Morgan lifted the reins over Blackjack's head, stepping on them to keep the animal from bolting as she knelt over the still body lying at an angle on the cemetery path. Gently she removed first the stocking, then the hood, checking the actress for contusions, broken bones, and blood. Relief coursed through her.
"Nothing more than a good bump and a whopping headache when she wakes up, I suspect," Morgan informed the horse, who stood by restlessly. "Right then, best to get her someplace safe. And we've got to get you home, too." Spotting the prop head nearby, she bent, picked it up, and tucked it into a knapsack she carried. "No sense ruining a perfectly good legend."
Sliding her arms underneath the unconscious woman's neck and knees, she rose to her full, considerable height, carrying the extra burden effortlessly. "Steady, boy. Easy now." She lifted the limp figure carefully onto the front of the saddle, keeping an arm around the injured woman's waist and placing one of her legs over the horse's back so that she was straddling him. Finally, Morgan hoisted herself up onto the back of the saddle, resting Julie's back and head against her own chest and shoulder. She closed her eyes, momentarily overcome with emotion, before gathering herself for the task at hand. With one arm wrapped firmly around her charge and the other controlling Blackjack, Morgan made her way out the seldom-used back gate of the cemetery and down the half mile to the water's edge, the dense fog shielding the trio from detection.
"Unngh." Julie struggled to open her eyes. "Wha..." A strong, but gentle hand restrained her as she tried to sit up.
"Shh. You're okay; just lie still."
"Bu..." she blinked, attempting in vain to focus her vision. "Where am I? Who are y...." The blurriness subsided and Julie was struck speechless, staring up into the bluest eyes she had ever seen, set in a face so perfect it didn't seem real. It had to be her imagination; perhaps the pain in her head was making her hallucinate. "Mm...Morgan, is that you? Could it be?" In those first seconds she wanted to touch her, to know that she was more than an apparition.
Morgan turned away quickly at the brief look of pain and uncertainty on Julie's face.
Before the injured actress could act on her impulse, she remembered, and doing so made her cautious. Instead of reaching out, she moved for a second time to sit up. Immediately she was bombarded by a wave of nausea. "It is you!" "My God, I gave you up for dead, and here you are, looking more radiant than ever."
Morgan completely missed the look of wonder on the prone woman's face. "Hey! I thought I told you to lie still." The words came out more harshly than she intended, and she deliberately softened her eyes, laying a warm hand on Julie's shoulder. "You'll feel much better if you do."
For the first time, Julie became aware that she was dressed only in an oversized button-down shirt. It smelled of sunshine and warmth, with a hint of jasmine, and caused an ache in the center of her chest. The firestorm of memory was too great:
"Mmm. Your shirts always smell like you...so good."
"Then come back to bed."
Within seconds Julie had shorn the oversized article and she and her lover were lying naked again, tangled in the sheets, their hunger for each other blocking out everything else.
It had been that way from the very beginning for the two of them, that first time their eyes had met on that sound stage a year earlier.
Julie sighed, knowing her lover had to be on set in less than an hour, and that the shooting was going to take most of the night. Reviewing her schedule for the evening a plan began taking shape in her mind, and she thought perhaps she could find a way to lessen their time apart, after all...
Mentally shaking her head to clear it, Julie tried to refocus in the here and now. That's when she noticed that the bed she was lying on was rocking. Her eyes opened wide. "Where are we?"
"On my boat."
"How did I get here?"
"I brought you."
"You...how did you find me, what happened?"
"You were thrown off your horse in the cemetery. Some bats and a few troublemakers spooked him. The kids took off when the horse reared. You hit your head on a gravestone when you fell, which knocked you out. I saw the whole thing, but I was too far away to prevent it."
"You were in the cemetery? What were you doing there?" In truth, there were a million questions buzzing around in her head and it was all Julie could do to get them out only one or two at a time.
"Um." Morgan blushed an appealing shade of scarlet. "You won't believe me if I tell you."
The actress laughed. "Morgan, you'll have to trust me that I've suspended belief for the moment. I mean, last I had heard you were killed in an accident at sea more than five years ago." Her voice breaking, Julie held up a hand to forestall a protest. "Don't even. We'll get to that after you tell me what you were doing in the cemetery."
The tall woman was pacing now. "You obviously are familiar with The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and the headless horseman." She indicated the costume that was draped over a nearby chair. "Well, most scholars believe that he was simply a character conjured up in Washington Irving's imagination. The truth, however, is that the headless horseman really did exist. In fact, he's one of my ancestors. My Grandpa Harry told me stories of his exploits all the time when I was young."
Julie made a sound between a squeak and a cough.
"I used to hear my father talk about how tired he was of having to repair the gravesite every Halloween when punks saw fit to disturb the dead. So, without anyone knowing, I've been slipping into town and guarding the grave on Halloween eve and Halloween night for the past few years. That's what I was doing in the cemetery when you rode in."
"How did you know it was me?"
Again Morgan blushed. "I watched your practice ride last night."
"And you didn't say anything????"
"Um, I wasn't sure you'd exactly welcome my presence."
It had been a long day and the end of a longer week of grueling middle-of-the-night filming. She was still riding the high of having just won the Academy Award for Best Director, but all Morgan wanted to do was to get home, where her beautiful girlfriend, the one she believed was responsible for her Oscar, was waiting. In fact, she was thinking of asking for a more permanent commitment, having picked out the ring the day before.
It sounded so clichÈd, but Morgan just couldn't get enough of the young blonde. She thought about the way she'd been awakened just that morning:
Her eyes had opened on a wave of passion, her lover's tongue gently, but insistently, stroking her center. Strong, sensual hands caressed her legs and abdomen.
"Julie, agggghhh, Julie. Please, baby, please..."
"Please what?" Green eyes clouded with desire met blue.
"Take me, love. Right now. I can't stand it anymore. Please take me."
"Why didn't you say so?" Julie asked as she returned to her task with renewed vigor, running her tongue the length of her lover and sucking her into her warm mouth. After several moments, she glanced up. "You are so beautiful, you know that?"
Morgan was too far gone to respond, her climax lifting them both off the bed.
A knock on her trailer door had brought Morgan out of her reverie, and she opened it to see Lana Zanova standing there. The bombshell was difficult at best on a set, but she was also pure gold at the box office, so Morgan had agreed, against her better judgment, to cast her in the lead role.
"Morgan, darling, I'm so glad you're still here," she purred as she oozed her way into the spacious room.
"Lana, whatever you want, can't it wait until tomorrow? We've all had a long day and..."
The star crossed the width of the space, closing the distance between them. With single-minded intent she latched on to Morgan, insinuating her knee between the director's legs and capturing her lips with a scorching kiss.
Before Morgan could get her hands up to push the actress away, she heard a gasp at the door, and a crash. She turned abruptly, putting distance between herself and Lana. In the entranceway stood a bewildered and devastated Julie, a crystal vase with a single red rose lying broken at her feet and the remains of a takeout dinner clutched in her nerveless fingers.
"Julie, I...It's not what it looks like..."
But it was too late, the smaller woman having bolted for her car, her tires squealing across the pavement.
That was the last time they had seen each other.
That night Morgan had gone down to the marina, intending to take her boat out for a ride so she could think. She hadn't paid attention to the weather warnings; she didn't care. Her boat had been destroyed by the strong swells and she had been presumed drowned.
"How are you alive? I mean, I know this is Halloween and all, but you are alive, right? Not a ghost?"
Morgan laughed. "No, I'm no spirit. I'm quite alive." She sat in a chair she had pulled by the bedside earlier. In fact, she had kept a vigil all night, stroking the fine blonde strands, feeling their silky texture run through her fingers. And remembering everything she'd had and lost.
"When you wake up, love, I'm sure you won't want me here. But for now I just want to hold you, and feel you in my arms, and tell you how very much I love you still. I've never stopped loving you, Julie; no amount of time could change how I feel. I'm so, so sorry for everything, though I know I may never get a chance to set it right." She hadn't bothered to wipe the tears from her eyes as they soaked the neck of her shirt.
"I didn't have a chance to explain to you before you ran out that night. Lana just came on to me out of the blue and I wasn't prepared for it. I was about to show her the door when you walked in." Morgan sighed and rose abruptly, pacing back and forth in front of the bed and raking long fingers through her unruly raven hair. "I know you have no reason to believe me, Julie, but I swear to you I'm telling the truth; all I wanted to do that night was get home to you." She was unable to keep the emotion from her voice.
"You haven't answered my question." A blonde eyebrow rose. "How are you alive and where have you been all these years?"
"When it was obvious I was in trouble and the boat was going to be pulverized, I grabbed a lifesaving ring, tied the rope around myself and jumped overboard. I can't tell you how, but somehow I survived; I guess it wasn't my time, although I wished for a long time that it had been."
Julie sucked in a sharp breath, reaching out a hand and barely grazing Morgan's arm as she came within reach of the side of the bed. "Don't say that Morgan. You had so very much to live for."
"Yes, but I no longer had the one thing that meant everything to me." She stopped moving, raising wounded blue orbs to Julie. "You."
"You could have come to me, explained things."
"I didn't think you'd listen and I couldn't bear to see the pain in your eyes, knowing I'd caused it. Drifting at sea for days, I decided the world would be better off without me. So I disappeared."
Julie gasped. "Where have you been all this time?"
"I found myself an island in the Caribbean; I've been living there ever since, returning here every Halloween to watch over the headless horseman."
"What a waste." Julie reached out a hand, stopping Morgan's forward progress as she made yet another pass around the bed. "You were a fabulous director; at the top of your game. Morgan, you never should have thrown all that away. Especially not for me."
The ex-director turned fully and knelt before the prone figure on the bed. "You were everything to me, Julie. Everything," she whispered brokenly. "You were worth my life and so much more." She paused. "And unless my satellite entertainment news channel deceived me, I wasn't the only one who threw it all away."
Julie wiped a tear from the incredible face before her, letting her own run freely down her face. "I loved you so much. I wanted to build my life around you."
"And I around you."
"Everywhere I went and everything I saw in LA reminded me of you. I had to leave. It was too much."
"I'm so very, very sorry," Morgan croaked.
"There's never been anyone else, you know, Morgan. Only you in my dreams."
"Thoughts of you have consumed almost every waking minute."
Julie chuckled. "That's only because you have nothing else to do on your isolated island."
"No. That's not true." Morgan captured the small hands in front of her. "That last night, I..." Her voice broke. "I was getting ready to leave and come home. I had bought a ring and was going to propose to you. But then..."
"Oh, Morgan," Julie breathed. Slowly, carefully, she leaned forward, touching her lips to the tortured woman's eyelids, then her cheeks, and finally her mouth. The contact was fleeting, but enough to send a jolt of electricity through her body. She couldn't stop herself as she sought more.
The years melted away, taking with them the heartache and uncertainty. All that remained was a love that burned brighter than any flame.
"I didn't know if I'd ever get the chance again, but..." Morgan reached into her pocket, pulling out a tiny velvet box. "I don't want to lose you again, Julie. I don't think I could take it."
Julie looked down uncertainly at the surprisingly heavy item in her palm. Glancing up into the intense face before her, she opened the lid to reveal a gorgeous, three-carat diamond ring. On the inside was written: "For my one great love."
In between her tears she asked, "You saved this all these years?"
"Yes. Many times, it was the only thing that kept me going; the thought that someday, somehow I might see you again and reclaim your love."
It was a Halloween the two lovers would always remember, and the townsfolk would gather for years to debate whether or not the headless horseman really visited Sleepy Hollow that foggy night.
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