The Inside Out

by LA Tucker
©  2002

Part XI:  The Ford Unfocused

For disclaimers, see Part I

    Mrs. Roger Stevens, who insisted on being called Ruthie, was a complete and utter revelation to Sara, who was startled almost beyond speechless when she met her at the dealership on Monday morning. Rising out of her husband's leather office chair with the awe of a star struck fan, Ruthie Stevens appeared to Sara as a present day reincarnation of ... Who is that? Oh yeah. Jane Hathaway.  But with knockers. It was true, she could have passed for a modern day Miss Jane, all elbows and knees and croaking voice, or even a stylish, busty and skinnier Janet Reno. Her short hair was a soft butter color, not anywhere close to being a natural tint, except maybe in a grocery dairy case. She was dressed very smartly in a blush colored tailored silk business suit, the soft angles of the suit not at all softening the severe angles of her features. Even her breasts, Sara noted, did not round out her jacket, it was more as though she was wearing one of those missile tit bras that Madonna showcased on one of her many tours.

    "Sara D'Amico! What a pleasure to meet you!"  Ruthie stood up from the chair, and Sara was surprised to find that the woman was as tall, if not taller, than she was.  Her gray eyes sparkled with friendliness, and Sara, not being comfortable meeting new folk in any situation, found herself doubly tongue tied while staring at Miss Jane. Er, Ruthie Stevens.  She must tower over little Roger.  Like the Eiffel Tower next to an ant hill. That must be how Chloe and I look together. Nah, Chloe's not short. She does stand on her tip toes to kiss me. Sara's mind was plodding along, looking over the office, half listening to Ruthie talking about this and that and the movies she'd seen and the television show and here's the contracts, Roger had a meeting to fly to in Columbus, he's terribly sorry he had to miss this and ...

    Sara realized that she had sprawled comfortably in the naughahyde chair, nodding at the now seated Ruthie, with a half smile plastered on her face. She terribly regretted, for a slowly dragging moment or two, the fact that she'd taken an extra Valium on her way to her meeting with this Jane Roger woman, when she'd decided the first dose she'd taken wasn't doing a damned thing to calm her nerves. But apparently, both pills had met up somewhere in her stomach, embraced like long lost relatives, and decided to work in tandem, simultaneously dulling every single one of her senses right now, right when she should be her most aware and attentive. She made a mental note to remember not to ever make that stupid move again, and then promptly forgot about it.  She glanced around the office, her eyes falling on a door leading ... where? Not to the showroom. Private bathroom?  Conference room?  Broom closet?  There was a transparent garment bag hanging on the door, with a larger, darker bag hanging behind it. Sara studied the transparent bag, the one she could see through with her imagined X-ray vision, and appreciated what she saw there, a creme colored tailored slacks suit, it was hard to tell from her chair, but it looked just dandy to her. My wardrobe. How nice.

    Sara checked back in to real time again, and blinked at the pleasantly chatting-about-something Ruthie, this time about per diems and schedules for taping and the Big Bang on Labor Day.  Ruthie lifted some papers off the desk, and handed them to Sara.  Sara glanced at them, saw dates and times on them, and decided that it was just wonderful of Ruthie to go to all the trouble of writing up her work schedule for her. This is going to be nice.

    Ruthie stopped talking, smiled at Sara, and picked up the phone, and asked someone named Dorthea to come in, and to bring Henry in with her as a witness. Sara stood politely when these people entered the room, hitched her slack smile up a notch, and then settled back into her chair again.  Dorthea and Henry pulled up chairs on either side of Sara, and Dorthea handed Sara a set of papers, and then proceeded to read the top sheet from her own copy of what Sara quite rightfully guessed was her contract, because Dorthea, with her cute little half glasses, was reading numbers about appearance fees with a serious tone to her droning voice.  Sara noticed that Dorthea had flipped her page, so Sara did the same thing, and tried very hard to keep up with what Dorthea was reading.

    But Dorthea insisted on reading at least a sentence or two ahead of Sara, who was having a devil of a time getting the letters to form words. The oh, so very relaxed woman decided to chill and go with the flow of it, and let Dorthea do all the hard work of getting the important points across. Everything sounded just hunky dory and peachy keen to Sara, and she smiled brilliantly whenever Dorthea looked at her for confirmation of the items listed on the sheets. Providing wardrobe, a vehicle for her to drive, gratis, with insurance being picked up by Stevens Motors, Incorporated. Exclusivity of services.  When Dorthea read that phrase, Sara perked up for a moment, and actually said a few words. "Non competing work OK with you guys?"  Dorthea frowned a moment, looked at Ruthie, and minutes later, Henry had penciled that provision into the contract. He read it aloud, and everyone nodded their approval, and then Dorthea picked up where she left off. Six months to start, with an option at the end of that time to extend that contract by no less, but not exceeding another year with a stipulated raise in fees. Dorthea stopped her reading there, and peered at Sara, who was seemingly unfazed by that paragraph. In truth, Sara could have been beaned by a Sammy Sosa line drive at that very moment in time, and she would have just shrugged it off. Because in actuality, she was feeling like that line drive had already clonked her.

    Dorthea had stopped her reading. It seemed she had finally got to the last sentence in the last page of the short stack of papers in her lap, and Sara was exceedingly relieved.  All the money figures sounded quite reasonable to her, just what she'd discussed with Roger on the phone last week, and since she hadn't been pulling any kind of a paycheck for a long time, she was both oddly under and overwhelmed with the heady sensation of being successful at landing a paying job. Piece of cake. Like riding a bicycle, pulling a plow, jumping off a cliff into Hades. I wish Chloe was here to see this.  Another man entered the room, but Sara was preoccupied by thoughts of Chloe, missed his name, but shook his hand politely anyway.

    Ruthie Reno Stevens pulled out a fountain pen from Roger's desk drawer with a flourish, and handed it to Sara, and everyone in the room stood up and watched as Sara leaned over the desk, and signed her name in movie star autograph fashion at innumerable pages marked with red X's next to dotted lines. Ruthie signed each page also, laughing and joking good naturedly about the amount of times she had to pen her name.  Sara initialed the changes about non competing work, and then there were no more lines to sign, so she figured it was alright to hand the pen back to a glowing Ruthie. It was.  Miss Ruthie Jane Janet Reno Roger Stevens clapped her hands together in congratulations, as did her worker bees, and Sara leaned back in her chair, glad that it was finally a done deal. She shook all their proffered hands, and made a few remarks about how happy she was, but didn't mention it was because of the advent of calmer nerves through the unintentional overuse of chemicals, and not entirely because she was now the official Spokeswoman and brand spankin' new employee of Rogers Ford Motor Car Sales and Service.

    The extras departed the room, with Dorthea promising to have a copy of the contract in Sara's hands before she left the lot for the day.  This left Sara and Ruthie alone, and Ruthie began speaking again. Her enthusiasm would have been infectious if Sara hadn't already felt just fine in her mellowed to the max condition.

    Ruthie got up from her chair, and moved towards the door where the garment bags were hanging. She removed the top bag from the door, the one with the creme suit, and carefully slung it over the back of the leather desk chair. She then walked over to the darker bag, the one Sara couldn't see through, and exclaimed triumphantly, if not very originally, "TA-DA!" Her excited voice, sounding a bit like Miss Piggy having a mind blowing orgasm, broke through Sara's blissed out complacency.

    Sara blinked at her, and smiled lazily. "Wardrobe?"

    Ruthie was already unzipping the bag. "You betcha. Wait 'til you see!  I picked it out especially for you, I called last week, and ordered it from a supply company in New York City, in hopes you'd sign with us." She was pulling out a garment from the bag, but she was blocking it from Sara's view. Once the item was entirely out of the bag, she smoothed it down before she made a grand gesture of turning around with it held high in her bony hands for Sara's inspection, and of course, her expected delighted approval. Once again at a loss for originality, she stood with the garment high in front of her, and re-exclaimed, "TA-DA!!"

    Sara stood up from her chair very slowly, and took a few loose limbed steps towards Ruthie.

    Ruthie was still prattling on, hidden by the garment. "Isn't this great? Perfect for our Labor Day push, perfect to introduce our new spokeswoman.  I had a heck of a time finding something on short notice, and well, I had to buy it, rather than rent it, but I figured we can use it again, right?"

    Sara stepped right up to the outfit, and stared at it. She eyed the shiny brown mesh like material, with the oval jewelry pinned over the left chest area. She fingered the material, it felt like Spandex to her. As it should have, because it was. She lifted the arms of it up, looked down at the trailing legs as Ruthie pushed it closer to her.

    A bell, siren, alarm, whistle and communicator signal went off in Sara's head simultaneously. She recognized this outfit. The words pushed their way through her numbly twitching lips.

    "Seven of Nine."

    Ruthie dropped the garment low enough for her to peek over it, a wildly pleased smile creasing her face. "You betcha, honey. Had a hell of a time finding something 'sci-fi' on short notice, of this quality. I'm more into cop shows, you know. The guy on the phone said this was the ticket."  She grinned at Sara expectantly.

    What she got was Sara repeating her former words. "Seven of Nine?"  Her eyes were becoming even more unfocused as she stared at the shiny, glittering surface of the outfit. Eyes blurring, she began to feel a little like she was lost in space.

    Ruthie gushed, "And I think it will be the perfect fit, don't you?"

    Sara tore her eyes away from staring at the body suit, and blinked unbelievingly at Ruthie. "I was in Star Gazers, not Star Trek: Voyager."

    Ruthie looked at her, only mildly disconcerted. "Star -Trek, Star-Gazers. What's the difference? It'll look great on you, you can go try it on if you want."

    Sara dumbly shook her head, as she was transported out of the room and into her own private holodeck. This is what I get for refilling prescriptions. "You want me to ... wear this? For the commercial?"  Sara's stomach had just started its gravitational pull from her abdomen down to her knee area. She already knew the answer before Ruthie said it.

    "Why sure, honey!  What better way to introduce our new 'Bang For Your Buck' spokeswoman?"

    Sara looked again at Ruthie, and then the outfit, and one eyebrow sluggishly arose to achieve a new personal best height. I wonder how many refills I have left on that prescription?

    Chloe Donahue, an innocent and curious visitor in a strange land, was at that very moment enjoying a Spanish omelet made to perfection out on the deck next to the swimming pool at her Holiday Inn.  She ate at a relaxed pace, and when her handsome, boyish waiter arrived to refill her coffee cup, she smiled a very grateful smile at him, and was secretly pleased when he gave her just the merest shadow of a wink as he departed. She sighed, and scanned the skies above her, aware of the early morning breeze that wafted by, disturbing nothing but the napkin on her lap. Other guests were also sitting nearby, enjoying their own repasts and quiet conversations with still sleepy expressions on their faces.

    She sipped some more of her tomato juice, leaned back in her chair, and flexed her bare toes on the cool surface of the tile below her feet. She checked her watch, then realized again that she had nowhere to be, at no specific time, with no task that needed tending to, no problems to be solved.  She added some cream into her steaming, richly brewed coffee, sampled it, and added a touch more.  She stared across the blazing blue of the pool as she contemplated how she wanted to spend her day.

    I could head to USC today.  I need to get directions, but the place is so huge, I could probably get lost and still end up there. I've got to find a bookstore there, get a sweatshirt for Nels. Maybe I should get them for everyone in the family, that way we could all wear them on Sundays in honor of Nelson being a student there, and well, it would be a nice reminder, and if he does play football for them, they could wear them on game day.  Chloe briefly smiled as she pondered whether she should get one that would fit Marcy now, or after she had the baby. Oh, and I bet they have little outfits for babies and kids, too!  Dave would love that, Sara, too, they're both such football fans. The smile faded from her face as she thought of Sara, and wondered what she was doing right now. Probably out on the course.  Probably still hellaciously mad at me. Chloe's smile drooped into a frown, as she once again tried to justify in her head her impromptu flight out of Stonecreek. She quickly contemplated canceling everything, and hopping a flight back to Ohio, right now. But she shook her head, grimaced and gave herself a little talking to.  I needed this. I wanted this. It almost felt like I had to do it. No, quit second guessing yourself, you had to.  She glanced at her watch again, knowing it was already after noon in Stonecreek.  Enough of living on Stonecreek time. I need to enjoy this, it's costing me tons in credit card bills, I'll be paying them off until 2020, or until I get a fourth or fifth job. She snorted at that idea, unaware that her waiter had arrived at her table with her check in his hand.

    She became aware of his presence when he softly cleared his throat. Chloe reached for her small wallet in the back of her shorts as she blushed up at him.  Her naiveté about the rituals of the traveling life made itself apparent when he waved her credit card away, a patient and friendly smile on his face.

    "No. All you have to do is sign, your name and room number, you see? It will get charged to your room."

    Chloe nearly sprained her wrist and bruised her butt trying to get her wallet swiftly back into the pocket of her shorts. Her flush broke through the the glow of the sunburn she'd gotten yesterday, and she quickly scrawled her name and room number where the young man pointed.  His patient kindness made her brave enough to want to ask what she considered a stupid question. She handed the check to him, and then the pen, too, and scrunched her nose up before she asked.

    "And your tip? Is that included?"

    "The gratuity is included. Thank you. You can add to it, or subtract from it, if you are not pleased with the service."  He grinned down at her, his lips parting to reveal an adorably cute gap toothed smile.

    Chloe was appalled. "Oh no, I would never do that. I mean, everyone has to make a living, right? I do, I mean, I don't make tips, but well, it would be nice if all jobs added a little gratuity provision in them, you know?  I could make a better income that way."  Chloe was nervously babbling now, this was only her second, sort of third day away from Stonecreek, and she found that she was already losing the ability to converse rationally. She wadded up her napkin in her lap, and looked up at him again, to find him still smiling benignly at her.

    "Right."  He was looking at her like he wanted to say more, but stopped and regained his composure again. "Will there be anything else, Ms. Donahue?"

    "Chloe." said Chloe automatically, and then looked at him quizzically.

    He laughed. "Your room card there, on the table. I had to punch it into our computer, and it comes up with your name, so I can print out the check. It's not like I'm psychic."

    Chloe blushed once again. "You must think I live in a cave or something. Now that I'm here, I'm thinking maybe I did ..."

    He found that he couldn't stop smiling at the graciously good natured Easterner with the endearing accent he couldn't place. There was just something about her. "No, not a cave. Frankly, when I first saw you, I thought you were in the Industry."

    Chloe found herself confused again, but this time, she caught on without any further explanation. She really blushed this time. "No, not hardly. But I'm guessing that's a compliment, so I'll just say thank you for it. And shut my mouth before I make a bigger idiot out of myself."  She saw the way he was gazing at her, and decided to nip any further attentions in the bud before she could accuse herself of shamelessly flirting with him. "And speaking of computers ... I'm looking to buy one, I think.  Know where I can pick one up?"

    He cleared his throat, a little disappointed that she'd artfully dodged his attentions, and then his professionalism and true friendliness took over. "What kind? Desktop, laptop?  PC, Macintosh?"

    Chloe once again found herself admiring the gap in his teeth. My mom used to describe gaps like that as 'he parts his teeth down the middle'.  Chloe smiled at the fond remembrance of her mother, and she appreciated the dark young man in front of her all the more for triggering the memory. "I'm not sure.  The one the guy on the plane had, it had this cute little apple on the lid of it."

    "Ah. Apple ... Macintosh. An iBook? PowerBook?  Sure, I can give you the directions to a store. Those can get pretty pricey, but you can pick up a good rebuilt one for a lot less. Don't let them pressure you into buying new. There's tons of used ones out there, reconditioned."

    "And the gizmos you hook up to it?"  Chloe had lost all semblance of trying to sound like any more than a country bumpkin who had spent the last twenty-five years in a cave.

    "Sometimes you can get them reconditioned, too. Or better yet, if you're good at haggling ..."

    Chloe smirked. "I am."

    "Then try to get them to throw in everything they mention as extras for an extremely low price. Cases, peripherals. Then negotiate up. Don't go ticket price. Like buying a new car."

    The new car reference threw her for a moment, her mind returning to center on a certain Ford pitchwoman. She blanched, and then recovered quickly, realizing the young man's eyes were still upon her. She'd already decided that this invaluable young man was going to get a bit of an extra gratuity, if only on her check, the rest of the time she was staying there. I'll just work 24/7 for the rest of my life. Who needs sleep?

    "Gotcha. Thanks for the advice. And the directions to the store?"

    "I'll bring them back with your receipt."

    "Oh, and ..." She had to read his name badge again, she felt awkward in doing so. "Marc.  The directions? I navigate better by landmark, not street sign."

    He smiled beguilingly at her again. "No problem. That's how I get around, too."  He grinned privately at his little white lie, picked up her empty plate, and promised her he'd be right back.

    Well. That wasn't so bad, once I pulled my foot out of my mouth. This adventure is OK, so far. A stray thought crossed her mind. I only wish I could just pick up the phone, and let Sara know about it.  She'd be proud of me.  Little Chloe out in the Big  Unknown World.

    She was lost in thought when Marc returned and again had to politely cough to gain her attention. He handed her the directions to the store, and accepted her gentle nod of thanks, somehow instinctively knowing that this particular fish out of water was presently traveling somewhere far away in that pretty head of hers.

    Sara hadn't filled out any kind of personnel related papers in years. As a matter of fact, she couldn't remember ever doing it.  Someone, some nameless secretary at the firm that represented her, must have done that, because the papers she sat down and tried to focus on, she didn't recognize. A W-2?  Withholding? Check this box if ... wait, do I count myself, or do they already count me, or ... Oh, shit, D'Amico, read the damned directions.  She lifted the sheet into the air, and moved it closer, then almost an arm's length away before she could read it.  Damned pills, I thought they'd  have worn off by now. I've been here for three friggin hours ...  She checked her watch. No, FOUR hours.

    After the contract signing fiasco in the morning, Sara had sucked down three cups of coffee in a row, which she thought would help counteract the effects of her unintentional OD of her usual dosage of Valium.  But the coffee really didn't help, because now she was experiencing the disconcerting feeling that she was a snail high on speed.  Her body thrummed with energy, her brain was chugging away on a gas tank of nothing but fumes.  Nerves or no nerves, I'm tossing that prescription out.  I'm a big girl, and all I need is to use my therapy techniques, do some meditating, some tapping, some visualizing ...

    She riffled through the stacks of papers in front of her that she need to fill out yet. Insurance papers for the vehicle she still hadn't seen. Releases.  A background check. A background check???  Like I'm some criminal on the run?  I'm Thelma, and my Louise has run off to California alone. God, now I know why I had Jennie handle all this stuff ... or some lackey of hers. I should have gotten representation, they would have at least been sane for that contract signing this morning. She checked off a box on the W-2, dated it and signed it, and hoped to God she didn't just agree to personally pay off the national debt. She sat back in her chair, and picked up the insurance papers packet.  She again moved the paper away from her, arms length, before she could read it. Damned pills. I can't focus for shit. I wish ... damn, I don't wish I had representation, I just wish Chloe was here. She should be here. She would have made sure that I didn't have that big friggin' piece of tuna between my front teeth for the publicity shots. She should have been here, not off in California, running around with her old girlfriend. I don't even want to think about that ... but she should have been here. This is a big deal for me.

    The publicity shots had been after the coffee and a haphazardly thrown together lunch brought in from a deli in Harmercreek.  Sara had thought the food would help counteract the effects of the drugs, but in reality, all it did was give her indigestion, a combination of tuna and onion breath, and a quite noticeable sliver of tuna stuck between her front teeth.  A salesman had finally approached her, and hesitatingly motioned to his mouth, scraped at his front teeth, and then pointed, embarrassed, at her mouth.  She'd already had a slew of pictures taken in front of a showroom Explorer, then moved outside to the lot to have her picture taken with Ruthie in front of the big Stevens Ford sign on the front window of the showroom. By then, a small crowd of curious employees had gathered, from salesmen to secretaries, financial mucky mucks, even greasy and grinning mechanics.  Pretty soon, there was a small line, all the employees wanting to have their picture taken with the former movie actress and their new co-worker.  Sara had smiled her patented movie star smile with all of them, one after the other, in the heat of the day, wearing one of her more stylish, and thus terribly uncomfortable silk dresses. They were all nice, shy and thrilled people, and she didn't resent their enthusiasm in the slightest, no, actually, for once in a very long time, she felt part of something outside of her family, an enterprise that hopefully would benefit them all, from the owners down to the guy who did state inspections. But the heat was incredible, the pills were screwing with her mind, and for purely vain reasons, the thought of wearing tuna as a smile accessory in 80 percent of the pictures that were snapped didn't help her disposition one bit.

    She was now back in the comfort of Ruthie's, or Roger's office, sitting in the leather chair and trying mightily to concentrate on the insurance papers in front of her as she filled them out.  She was cool again, due to the incredibly chilled air conditioning, and not feeling so jittery.  She was tired, her hair drooping along with the rest of her body. She'd forgotten just how much energy being a 'personality' took - the smiling, the laughing, the attention to the smallest of conversations. The need to be 'on' -- appearing gracious, attentive and intelligent.

    She wasn't feeling any of those things right now, all she could think of was going home, putting up her feet, and maybe running through the sprinkler after eight o'clock, when the sprinkling ban was lifted every day.  Maybe she'd even throw on her cut-offs and go down to the beach for the sunset and a quick dip.  She hadn't done that in a few weeks, and the last time she had, and every time before that this summer, Chloe had always been there, right beside her, running from the car, throwing off clothes along the way until she was down to her bathing suit at the waters edge and charging in, yelling like a Banshee as she hit the surf.  Sara would take her time getting there, disrobing along the way, but preferring to take the slower route, so she could watch Chloe acting like a joyous 8 year old freed from her school room and embarking on summer vacation.  They would play in the water until the sunset would appear behind them, then they would climb out, and park their butts on the sand to watch the changing colors of the sky.  Chloe would sit between Sara's legs, and snuggle into her, and their conversation would die out along with the sun's rays, until they were silent, in their own world, not alone, but their world, their beach, their sunset, their moon and stars.

    A knock on the door interrupted Sara's melancholy thoughts.

    Ruthie Stevens stuck her head in, and smiled. Sara started again, she almost expected to see Mr. Drysdale, or even Jethro Bodine following after her.

    "How's it going with those papers?  Get the insurance ones filled out yet?"  Ruthie asked with a twinkle in her eyes.

   Ruthie's voice reminded Sara of a thirteen year old boy's, stuck perpetually in between tenor and baritone. "Just signing off on them now. I'm afraid I haven't gotten much else done, except for these W-2's."

    Ruthie took notice of the look of Sara's lackluster posture, and kindly took pity on her. "Well, tell you what. How about you take the rest home with you, and then drop them off tomorrow, honey?  They'll keep."

    Sara mustered up a very grateful and relieved smile. "That would be great. I'm afraid I'm not big on paperwork. I get kind of lost ... all these boxes to check."

    Ruthie laughed, a snort sounding very much like garbage disposal grinding on a spoon. "Well, how about we go get you into your new Ford, and you can go on home?  You car should be fine here overnight, you could come pick it up later, or tomorrow, or I could have someone run it out to your house."

    Miss Jane or no Miss Jane, Sara wanted to get up, and go kiss the woman for saying she could get the hell out of here. She stood up from the leather chair and hastily gathered the papers as she lasered a very happy smile straight at her benefactor. "Best news I've heard all day."  She walked over to Ruthie, who was watching her, a bemused smile on her face. Sara handed her the papers she'd filled out, and Ruthie opened the door for them, and after dropping those papers off to a bashfully smiling secretary, they made their way out of the showroom, with many friendly calls of 'See ya, Sara', ringing quite pleasantly in her ears as she waved goodbye to all of them.

    Ruthie opened the showroom door, and held it for Sara, a curiously sly smile crossing her face. "C'mon, come see what I've picked out for you. I think you'll love it. I know I do!"

    Back out in the heat of the day, and the rough glare of sunlight glinting across polished hoods, Sara flipped her sunglasses down onto her face as they walked past Thunderbirds, Crown Victorias, Tauruses and Focus station wagons.  They were approaching a line of Mustangs, and Sara eyed them interestedly, but Ruthie kept walking, and Sara, for a rare time in her life, had trouble keeping up with someone else - a woman who seemed to have longer legs than she did.  They kept moving, towards, and then past, Ford Explorers, and Explorer Sports, and Sara's eyes lit up as they neared a row of gleaming pick-up trucks. But Ruthie never stopped moving, and they passed the trucks by without Ruthie slowing her stride.  Soon they were near the edge of the lot, and Ruthie began to slow, and Sara's eyes were still studying the pick-ups as she tried to keep up with Ruthie.  Sara was eyeing a forest green F-250  4X4 with fog lights and a very snappy cap on the back of it, when Ruthie made a sudden left turn.  Sara, not paying attention, kept going forward.

    Ruthie jangled the car keys in her hand as she pulled up to a stop. "Oh, Sara, honey! Right here, dear."

    Sara turned towards her new boss' voice, and looked at Ruthie, who was stopped in front of a ...

    Sara took some halting steps towards Ruthie, who was pointing like 'Let's Make a Deal's' Carol Merrill at ...

    Sara stopped, and stared. Then she flipped up her sunglasses and stared. She transferred that stare to Ruthie, who was beaming.  Again.

    Sara found her tongue, and used it to form words. "It's a  ... van."

    Ruthie jangled the keys at Sara. "All yours, honey!  One of our best conversion vans. Ain't she a honey?"

    Sara blinked, and dropped her sunglasses back down over her eyes, in hopes that it would change what she was seeing. "It's a van."

    Ruthie started rattling off features as though she was a car lot owner or something. "Four captain's chairs. 4.2 liter engine. CD and DVD player. Leather upholstery. Raised roof. Seats 7 comfortably. Fridge in the rear. Deluxe package. All yours, for at least six months."

    Sara's mouth wouldn't move. I don't know seven people I could stand having in a van with me all at the same time.  She took some hesitant steps around the front of the mammoth vehicle, painted a metallic blood red color, with fancy running lights all around it.  She remained quiet, just looking, with Ruthie gleefully bobbing along behind her, still jangling those keys.  Then Sara stepped around to the driver's side and stopped, hard and fast, so fast that Ruthie actually bounced right off of her, but Sara never even flinched.

    Ruthie saw what had caught Sara's fascinated attention. "Pretty great, huh? Actually, we retired that logo a few years back, but I dug it out of mothballs last winter, and well, we had it painted on the side. Local artist designed it for us right after they got out of college. We used it in all our ads, and on our company vehicles for years and years. Then we shelved it, just went with having the Steven's Ford logo on everything, but I told Roger that we should use it again, it's so cute, and it looks just like him, doesn't it?"

    On the panel door of the enormous van was painted a mural, with 'Steven's Ford Sales' above it, 'More Bang For Your Buck' written below it.  The life-size mural itself was a knock-off of Yosemite Sam, with smoking pistols and crossed gunbelts, short bowed legs and huge floppy cowboy hat. But instead of Sam's face, it was Roger Steven's face in cartoon form.

    Sara flipped her sunglasses up again, and squinted at the huge logo on the side of  ... her van. "And the local artist was ...?"

    Ruthie pressed the keys into Sara's limp hand. "Ooh, let me think. I can't for the life of me think of her last name. Mary ... Marty... Marcia ...

  Sara gripped the keys tightly in her hand, right before she slipped her sunglasses down for the final time. "MARCY."

    Marcy, Dave and Nelson were all keeping vigil for Sara's return from the dealership.  Marcy had yet another mysterious concoction bubbling on the stove, and she nervously kept popping in and out of the screen door to help Dave and Nelson scan the long gravel driveway for the hopefully victorious return of the newly employed groundskeeper turned shill lady for Stevens' Ford. Dave and his son were propped on the porch steps, and Ralph Henderson was manning the barn nee clubhouse, and it was nearing 4 PM, and they were all getting pretty antsy.

    "I should have gone with her," said Dave, a bit cross with himself.

    "I could have gone, too."  Nelson frowned. "Or maybe Marcy. Marcy is better at handling Aunt Sara when she's, you know, upset."

    Marcy was on the opposite side of the screen door. "Since when am I better at handling Sara when she gets 'upset'?!" she said, flabbergasted.

    Dave turned from his seat, and stared at her. "Well, you just are.  You seem to understand where she's at, what she needs at the time."

    Marcy placed her hands on her hips. "What the hell are you talking about?  What, now I magically can understand .. people who are losing it? Is that what you two are saying?"

     Nelson was afraid to turn around to look at her. "Well, you understand better, because you're, you know, a woman."

    Dave turned back around, and nodded at his son in full agreement. Big mistake.

    The screen door swung open with a bang, and Marcy was upon them in a flash, standing over them, eyes afire.  Dave and Nelson automatically cringed as her words came tumbling down like a landslide upon them. "WHAT?  Is that what you men think?  That all of us women types UNDERSTAND each other's idiosyncrasies? Our crummy mood swings?  Our TANTRUMS??  Is that what you think, buddy boys? Because if that's true, then you're WAY off the mark, let me tell you both, right now.  We women don't understand each other's moodiness, we just know how to fight fire with fire ... when we get moody crap thrown our way, we just fight back by manufacturing a MOOD OF OUR OWN! Got IT?"

    Both men, hunkered down as far as they could, showed their understanding by returning a few grunts of acquiescence.  Dave was about to say something really stupid, and not even on purpose, which would tick Marcy off even further, when a vehicle unknown to them turned into the drive out at the highway.

    Dave slowly sat up, still a little afraid of getting his ears boxed by a very displeased Marcy.  Nelson tentatively straightened up, too, when he saw that his brave father was leading the way.

    A shiny, blood red conversion van was making its way up the drive, churning gravel as it traveled towards the parking lot.

    Dave was disappointed. He had hoped it was Sara, there to save them from dealing with Marcy's wrath any longer. "Aw, it's just some golfer."

    Nelson was just thinking of going to visit Ralph in the barn until Marcy's storm front passed, when the vehicle, instead of turning into the parking area, kept coming towards them until it was directly in front of them. It stopped, and all three porch patrollers peered at the driver through the deeply tinted windshield.

    Marcy put a hand up to her brow, to ward off the afternoon glare, as she looked at the halted, but still idling vehicle. "It's Sara ... I think."  Marcy hesitantly waved. No wave was returned.

    Nelson was having a hard time seeing, too, with the sun in his eyes. "You think?"

    The van backed up, spitting a little gravel, and then the engine roared, and began moving forward again, this time with the front wheels turned hard left, and the van moved in a counterclockwise circle, until the driver's side of the vehicle came into their view.

    Marcy's previous anger turned slowly into flummoxed disbelief as she took in the mural on the side of the van.  She audibly gulped, and backed up a step towards the house. "Oh merciful God in Heaven. No, no, no, no."

    Dave whistled, low and long. "Good Lord, would you take a look at that BOAT!  You don't suppose THAT'S what they gave her to drive, do ya?"

    The engine shut off. Nelson was starting to chuckle, an amazed deep giggle actually, as the driver's door opened slowly, and they saw Sara's long leg gain footing on the running board. Nelson pointed at the huge cartoonish mural. "Is that supposed to be ... Roger Stevens?"

    Marcy had one hand on the screen door handle already. "Yup .. that's Roger alright. I know the artist." She had the door swung open as Sara hopped down to the ground, and turned towards them, a grim smile plastered on her face. "I think I'd better go check the stuff on the stove ..." and she stepped inside, just as Sara slipped her sunglasses halfway down her nose and glowered at the three of them, then looked at the hideous mural on the van, and then searched out Marcy to stare down with an icy glare.

    Sara took one step forward. Marcy was halted inside the screen door, frozen in place by the strength of Sara's glare.

    Sara's words of greeting could be easily heard in the next county, and even in Canada, thirty miles due north across Lake Erie.  "MARCY!!!  COME ON OUT HERE, I WANT TO HAVE  A LITTLE TALK WITH YOU ... DEAR."

    Marcy stalled for time until she could formulate a plan to get her on a plane to join Chloe in the safety of California. "That logo was 10 YEARS AGO! It's not my FAULT!"

    Sara didn't even notice her brother and nephew get up, and carefully edge around her to go give the van the once over.  Sara slowly advanced on the porch, never taking her eyes away from Marcy's, whose own eyes got wider with every step Sara took.

    The way Sara's was voice rumbling, a golfer out on the 4th green mistook it for thunder, and looked skyward, searching for storm clouds. "SIX MONTHS!  SIX MONTHS I have to drive that ... that ... BUS! with your ARTISTIC CREATION ON THE SIDE OF IT!!"

    Marcy instinctively recognized the voice of doom when she heard it, and it was definitely her own doom being predicted in that menacing growl, that ferocious stare.  She did what any smart female would do in the face of danger from a woman whose mood was verging on that of a nuclear meltdown.  She turned tail, ran, locked herself in the bathroom, then ducked and covered.

    Sara watched Marcy's hasty escape, halted, and groaned in acceptance of momentary defeat. She turned and looked disgustedly at her brother and nephew, who stopped their inspection of the vehicle to gaze at her.

   Wordlessly, they all took stock of the situation. Dave looked at Nelson, then Sara, then Nelson looked at Sara, and then all three stood back and stared at the van. Then they looked at each other again.

    "I call shotgun!" Sara tossed Nelson the keys and he caught them on the fly as she headed for the passenger side of the van.

   When Marcy snuck out of the bathroom 10 minutes later, defensively armed with a spray bottle of Formula 409 in one hand, and a toilet bowl brush in the other, she was immensely relieved to find the porch and the driveway deserted. The D'Amicos and Roger 'Yosemite  Sam' Stevens had left the parking lot, for parts better left unknown.

Continued in Part XII

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