The Inside Out

by LA Tucker
Copyright ©  2002


Part XIII:  Tuesdays Can Be Such A Bitch

For disclaimers, see Part I

Sara couldn't remember the last time she got dressed up two days in a row.  Since she hadn't made an appointment to see the loan person at the local savings and loan where she had her accounts, she decided that with a clingy, low cut blouse, a short skirt and a heaping dose of breezy movie star attitude, no one would be able to dismiss her lightly. No one had ever dared to before, and she was confident that her notoriety and the fact she was a local celeb would help smooth her way into having a loan discussion without having an official appointment.  Dave had driven to the bank separately, so he could return homeward to the duties of his golf course, and Sara could continue on her way to her scheduled meeting with Doris at the school. Once at the bank, however, they'd waited nearly an hour to see the young woman in charge of taking applications. One look at her and both Sara and Dave could see that their cause was in vain. Hopelessly in vain.

The blouse and the skirt were wasted on someone who obviously could show no appreciation for immodestly displayed cleavage and indescribably long length of sleek bared leg.  The young female loan officer was fresh from college, all serious self- important professional and completely business brained, and she quite efficiently shot down Sara's hopes like they were beer cans on a fence, and she was shooting a Special Target Model BB gun. She condescendingly pointed out, again and again, that Sara had no recent job history and no collateral, and that the down payment alone would wipe out her savings.  Even when Dave piped up, offering to cosign, or help Sara out with the down payment, the college grad neatly sliced and diced his offer into coleslaw shreds by commenting that Mr. D'Amico's own savings and cash flow was rather a chancy proposition at this point in time, and taking on more credit responsibility would obviously saddle him with considerably more debt that might hurt him if he should need to borrow funds in the future.

  Sara tugged on her tight skirt as she stewed in the cool bank in an uncomfortable chair in front of the snot nosed, well educated, too falsely apologetic twenty-something. She silently acknowledged her newfound hatred of all college students, well, uppity recent college grads who knew how to talk about how the game of life and credit was played, but had never actually gotten into the game more than a foot deep and had to be a legitimate player. Her patience was thinning at about the same rate as the smile she had to keep glued to her face.

Sara was managing to hide it well, but she was so disappointed and maddeningly frustrated, she had relentlessly crumpled the young woman's business card in her hand as she spoke.  She tucked the unfortunate rectangle of distressed paper under a thigh in an effort to stop herself from next shredding it in front of the loan officer's face.  "Listen, Ms. --"  Sara had completely forgotten the young woman's last name, and she couldn't even glance down at the mangled business card for help.

"Dean.  Chriss Dean."

Dave, who was slumped in an adjoining chair next to his plainly fuming sister, finally perked up after his earlier beseeching speech was shot down. He squinted at the young woman, and there it was, the telltale family resemblance that most of us are loathe to admit. "Dean? Like, 'Mo' Dean?  In 'Oklahoma' last spring?"

Sara leveled a glare at her brother for interrupting her.  She was intending to freeze dry and vacuum pack this snooty loan girl with a few scathing and brutal words and a searing look. She was tired of being polite, and she wanted to have her pointed monologue with this Junior Miss Executive before she departed the bank.  Sara eyed him, and watched his face soften and give her a conspiratorial look that she knew quite well.  She held her tongue for a moment and thought. Mo Dean?  Ado Annie?  Sara turned her attention back to Ms. Dean, and chewed her lip as she waited for her reply.

The young woman smiled, a sincere one this time, and not one she had practiced in her business class role playing. "My sister. Moreen.  I wish I could have been here to see her in it, I heard she was terrific. I saw the videos someone shot, she was a bit ... loud ... but that's just Mo."  This time, her face nearly cracked its carefully applied Revlon veneer by beaming out a bit of sisterly pride.

Dave took the lead and ran rather haphazardly with it. "Terrific? Why, she was the whole show, if you ask me!  My son Nelson, and Sara's nephew, well, he just couldn't get over her." He couldn't sing over her, and complained every opportunity he got. "Moreen! I haven't seen her all summer, where's she going to school this fall?"

Chriss Dean was delighted to talk about her sister, instead of dealing with this has-been movie star again. She didn't like sci-fi, and pretty much hated anyone prettier than she was. "Ohio. Millvale College. It's a small liberal arts school. I just graduated from there this past May.  I don't suppose you've ever heard of it."  She looked at Dave and Sara expectantly.

Sara smoothly interjected her part of the tag team snow job. "Why sure, that's a terrific school, tons of my friends went there, well, way back when!"  She whipped her long dark hair back, and almost chipped a tooth in her efforts to get her mouth crooked into her movie star smile.  Dazzle 'em. Dazzle 'em with bullshit.

The hastily choreographed dazzling BS  was unfortunately wasted on Chriss Dean, who saw that her boss was motioning to her from behind Sara and Dave's backs. "Well, I hope she does well there. She's a great sister."  She acknowledged him by lifting her chin, and then decided she'd better wrap this up and see what the old fart wanted. She flashed a final apologetic smile to the brother and sister across from her, wiped her hands on her pants, and stood up slowly, extending a hand across the desk to Sara, indicating that the meeting was over.

"I'm sorry we couldn't be of more help to you at this time," she said as she watched Sara awkwardly rise to her feet and shake her hand lightly. "But if your circumstances change, or improve, Ms. D'Amico, please come in and see us again."

Sara watched as Ms. Dean reached and shook Dave's hand too. "Well, sure, alright. But maybe if we talked to ..."

Dave interrupted his sister before she made a fool out of herself by sounding desperate. He knew she'd hate herself if she did that, and he knew that his sister's temper was bordering on her performing a WWF full body slam on the young woman right in the middle of the bank. He had to get her out of here, but fast.  "We will, Ms. Dean. And thank you for your time, and seeing us without an appointment. Say 'Hey' to Mo for us, tell her to come by the golf course. And you, too." So we can practice our chip shots with you as our target.

Sara ended up glaring impotently again at her brother, who had just spoiled her last ditch effort to get someone besides this smartypants little snot to talk to her about a home loan.  Someone that might be more impressed with her spotty actress credentials and not so concerned that she was a poor credit risk. She sighed, and moved towards the front door with her brother, who held it open for her as they exited.

Chriss Dean moved from behind her desk, and over to where her boss was standing, unobtrusively, he thought, behind a wilted potted palm.

"Home loan?" he asked quietly, not wanting the potted palm or the customers in the teller line to overhear.

"Yeah, what a no-brainer that was.  I would have thought she'd have a lot more stowed away, I wonder --" she replied, sure and confident in her role as loan dominatrix.

"Put it through," he said, not quite comfortable in saying it.

  Her eyes widened and she blurted, "What?"  Surely the old dufus couldn't have said that.

He straightened his tie unnecessarily. "I said, put it through, approved."

"But sir, she's just barely got a pot to ..." Ms. Dean was so flustered, she lost her professionalism, but only briefly. "She's got no work history, she's got a new job, no collateral ..."  She was determined to make sure her boss knew the history, and that she'd made the correct decision in turning Ms. Sara D'Amico down.

He looked at her, rather amused, and shook his head. "Put it through, Chriss. Let's just say ...  God is backing up this loan. Personally."

All college cocksure and educated by the good grace of student loans, Ms. Dean had certainly no grasp on how the real fiscal world turned .. as yet. She tried again. "But ..."

He walked away from her, a small smile playing around his lips. "Put it through, and put it on my desk. I'll take care of the rest of it later in the week."

Chriss Dean shook her head, and mumbled, "Oh, for Christ's sake," before she realized that she was standing too near the line leading to the tellers.  The church pastor's wife pursed her lips and looked at her disapprovingly.

Her finely honed professionalism didn't stop the embarrassed blush that rose to her cheeks.  She apologized, then quickly strode back to her desk to do - albeit very reluctantly - exactly as her boss had ordered.

"You don't mind if I take my shoes off, do ya Doris? My flippers are killing me."  Sara had strolled in unannounced and plopped down in the chair opposite of Doris, and kicked off her pumps without waiting for Doris' answer.  She slumped in a very unladylike manner, and eyed Doris, who was already raising a grayed and annoyed eyebrow at her.  Sara shrugged like a 17 year old, purposely looked away and around the office that she'd been parked in so many times in her rather unruly youthful days. During her years here in this high school, and her many trips to the principal office,  she'd killed time by carving her initials under Doris's nameplate on the desk.  She itched to see if they were still there, but stopped herself from looking. She wasn't looking to incur Doris' wrath right now. As she looked around the familiar room, her smile grew from nonexistent to wryly grinning.

It only took Doris a moment or two to catch on to the source of Sara's smile.  She too, felt that certain sense of deja vu, and she studied the long form of the deeply tanned and still very much of a juvenile delinquent in a grown woman's body sitting across from her.  She began smiling too, and before they both knew it, they were laughing together quietly, not saying a word, just remembering their conjoined past here together in this room.

Surprising both of them, Sara started the conversation. With the formidable Doris Raeburn around, this was quite the feat, on any given day. "Well, Mrs. Raeburn. Doris.  How goes it?  How's the bursitis?"

Doris rubbed her shoulder and looked at her with some stern affection. There seemed to be something amiss about Sara, but she couldn't tell what it was. "Nothing yet, although I'm feeling twinges. I'm going to call up the local stations, and see if they need a 64 year old weather girl. Hell, that one guy, he's been calling for rain for two weeks. He's a regular moron. And he makes a living at that?"  She leaned her chin on her hands, and her eyes sparkled as she continued gazing at Sara. "Dammit, girl, you make me feel 20 years younger by just sitting there, all spit and vinegar and bad girl attitude - like always- glaring at me.  You think either one of us will ever grow up?"

Sara chortled. After the way her morning had started, this part of it might not turn out so badly. Now if I can just keep my eyes off that 'Oklahoma' picture behind her desk, this should go fine.  But the image there had already burned itself into her mind, an image of Chloe softly leaning against her, the Porn Star ballcap gripped lightly in her hand.  What you can't see is me holding Chloe's other hand behind her back.

She blinked her eyes to clear her thoughts, and found Doris was still studying her, magically mute for a change. Doris seemed a little preoccupied too, and it looked like she was going to start saying something, but she shook her head dismissively, and then began on a different tack.

"Well. Sara. How's everything?  How are things out at the course? Good? Good." Doris almost always answered most of her own questions, it saved beaucoup time that way. "Is that your van out in the parking lot?  I saw you pull in.  My god, are you thinking of renting it out to boarders? You could fit a family of trapeze artists in there, plus a dancing elephant or two.  That from the new job? Well, that's mighty fine.  That Ruthie Stevens, she's a stitch, isn't she?  Did you know she lived in Stonecreek most of the last 50 years, until she and Roger built a huge monstrosity of a house in Harmercreek, full of spiral staircases that go nowhere. She was on the town council out here right before they vamoosed.  Always full of grandiose ideas, one year she wanted to put in a stone fountain with a statue in front of the town hall. Would have wiped out all the parking there, and the town budget to boot, but just think of the artistic value of it!" Doris rolled her eyes.  "Some statue of some Greek figure, who was it now?  Oh yes, the Goddess of Love. Aphrodite.  I told her, what with the lack of a police force around here unless the state boys drive through, well, the fountain would be littered with pennies, used condoms and beer bottles.  She just looked at me and told me I had no 'artistic vision'. My fat butt.  I just didn't want to find out how many of my high school senior boys were peeing in there instead of behind the Dairy Queen. Artistic vision. Ptooey.  She and Marcy, yup,  they can keep their artistic vision."

Sara nearly had the opportunity to interrupt and become part of a two way conversation by telling her about Marcy's vision on the side of her Steven's Ford van when Doris began again. There was no such thing as 'dead air' as long as Doris was on the premises.

"Well, Sara, have you decided which way this is going to go?  A talent show, a Broadway review, a play?  How about 'Arsenic and Old Lace'? - I always thought that was a such a hoot and a holler.  Dave could play the Cary Grant role, and Helen and I could argue over who got to play which murderous old Aunt. Although that's kind of limiting, we want the whole town as involved as possible with this thing, right? Right. If they're not in it, then they'd better have someone, a relative or nebby neighbor in it so they have an excuse to show up both nights. What, we didn't discuss how long it was going to be? I was sure we talked about that. No? I should think that two nights would do it, a Friday and a Saturday, then when we send out the invitations, the county hoo-hoos don't have an excuse for not showing up at least one of the nights. So what were you thinking, a Broadway review, or a talent show --?"

Someone, not Sara, actually had the temerity to interrupt Doris Raeburn. A woman popped her head through the doorway, and chipped in her two cents as she walked into the office. "I say Broadway review. Everyone has at least one song from a musical floating around endlessly in their heads."

Audra Simmons, in polo shirt and cutoffs, stood cockily in front of Doris' desk, and then with her back to the principal, she took that opportunity to sneer sneakily at Sara in greeting. Sara, not in the least bit happy to see the blonde woman, moved uncomfortably in her seat, replying effusively with a grunt and a frown.

Doris was apparently pleased to see her. "Hello, Audra. I was just telling Sara here, well, we were having a talk about how she wanted to do things ..."  Doris saw Sara's eyebrow raise slowly at her comment, and she ignored it with a wave of her hand. "Well, we just got started.  What do you think about a Broadway review, Sara?"  Doris had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep herself from rattling on. She sat back in her chair, and crossed her arms.  Audra, who had taken a perch on the corner of Doris's desk, glanced back at Doris, then faced Sara and crossed her arms, too. Both women stayed unmercifully quiet as they waited for Sara's decision.

Sara cleared her throat, vexed that her mortal enemy had the upper hand for the moment, and that Doris had decided to include Audra in on this discussion. "Broadway review sounds good to me. They can pick the songs they want to do. Tryouts?"

Doris clucked her approval and paged through the calendar on her desk.  Audra continued to stare at Sara, outright smirking at her. Sara wanted to reach out and push that smirk right down her throat and wrap her intestines around it.  But she kept her composure as Doris led the way again.

"Well, the ladies and I were talking about this at bridge the other night, and well, how about we get posters done for tryouts, oh, say the end of September?  That will give you about a month's practice time before, oh, the show's debut in ..." she thumbed through her calendar, found a date, and lifted it to face both Audra and Sara. "The first week in November? It's just a little song and dance, so you don't need as much rehearsal time. The ladies and I were trying to think of a place to have it, I'm not sure the school theatre is open then, it'll be time for Freshman plays, so Paul Hoderman will have them busy in there.  So, we could have it at the church, Naomi Fuller is kind of doubtful about that though, she thinks her husband, the pious Pastor, might object to someone tap dancing in a Methodist church.  So our best bet is across the street -- the fire hall.  Lots of room there, tons of folding seats from the bingos they have, and it's right across the street, so, the kids in Marcy's art classes won't have to far to go to help out with the props and such. Sounds perfect to me, I'll call one of the firemen over there after lunch. There's always someone hanging around there polishing the truck. What is it with having a polished and glowing fire truck, anyway?   And the night of the performances, the crowd can park here in the school parking lot. Sounds perfect, doesn't it? "

She stopped to take a much needed breath, and noted the two women's uneasy acceptance of what she'd said. "Now, as for your assistant, Sara.  Can't have Chloe, she'll be busy being Goodbye Mr. Chips right then at Glenhurst. Probably falling asleep listening to dull speeches, like she did in her history class. I had to give her detention for that, but what good did that do?  She slept through detention, too.  And Paul, he'll be busy with the freshman play and his mother. My God, that woman keeps him busier than a call girl after the fleet's come into port. I was thinking Dave might want to lend a hand, but we can't have both of you away from the golf course with Nelson gone bye-byes by then. And Marcy, she's about to burst as it is, either with a baby or just plain pent up frustration - that can't be good for the baby - so, as I as I was saying ..."

Audra squirmed uncomfortably.  She'd come in here to visit with Doris, stayed to simply harass Sara with her presence, but now she was starting to think Doris had another motive for casually inviting her to take a break from prepping her new classroom, oh, say, around elevenish.

Doris didn't wait very long to reveal her plan. "Soooo, I was thinking about how wonderful an assistant Audra was to Chloe when Audra was student teaching here, and Audra knows Marcy who can at least help with some prop work, and she has it on her resume that she's continuously helped out with school productions in Erie, so ..."

The plan revealed, Sara found she was perilously close to sliding off her seat and onto the floor in consternation and disbelief. "You want HER to help ME?"  She gripped the edges of her chair until her knuckles turned white, and wished those edges were Audra's neck.

Audra gave Sara a snide look before she said under her breath, "Well, I could, if I had the time ..."

Sara's eyes blazed an inhuman tint, and Doris cringed a little. Ohoh. What's this all about?

Sara didn't wait for Audra to finish stumbling through her refusal. "You're not volunteering, right?"

Audra pushed up from the desk, and returned some of Sara's bad attitude with some of her own. "Well, I could."  She was not about to back down from a challenge, especially from this giant brunette bitch who was not even trying to hide the evil eye she was casting upon her. She straightened up a little taller, and turned to face Doris, who was watching the barely veiled hostility in front of her with an interested eye. "Yes. I can do it. I'd LOVE to be Sara's assistant."  She turned to face Sara again, who was trying very hard to keep her mouth from sliding into a dropjawed position. She looked her right in the eye. "I mean, if Sara can handle having me around."  Gauntlet thrown, Audra waited, daring Sara to back off.

Sara clamped her mouth shut, and tried her best to stare Audra down. Audra held steadfast. Not one to admit defeat, Sara straightened up in her chair, ignored Audra's existence, and using all of her acting talents, she smiled at Doris. "That would be just ... FINE. As a matter of fact, just GREAT. I'd be HAPPY to have Audra be my second in command."

The ugly deed was done.  Doris rattled on as Sara and Audra kept resolutely silent, both listening with one ear.  They were too busy thinking about other things, plotting the other's demise, musing about if it was truly impossible to commit the perfect crime.

By the time the meeting was over, both Audra and Sara had come up with their own plans on how to knock the other off, perfectly plotted or not.

Doris' shoulder and head began aching simultaneously, and she inwardly wondered how soon she needed to start carrying her umbrella again on an everyday basis. Even if it didn't look or feel like it was going to rain, it was plain to her that there was a mighty storm brewing.

Sara stopped at a quiet place near the beach, taking off her shoes again and walking gingerly across the broiling sand to the water's edge, letting her tortured toes bask in the warm lake.  But her mind wasn't clearing, nothing was going right, and it was Tuesday, her usual day off from the golf course, and she realized she had nothing much to do to take up the rest of her day.  She knew that what she would end up doing was endlessly replaying her disappointing morning in her head, fretting about the failed loan application, and ranting endlessly about how an innocent looking Doris Raeburn had allowed that gopher turd with legs, Audra Simmons, to volunteer herself as Sara's flunky for the course of this hokey production. The longer she walked aimlessly along the water's edge, the more she kept thinking about Chloe. Chloe in California. Chloe, probably running hand and hand down a beach somewhere with Whatsername Baker, building sandcastles in the sky, flying kites in the offshore breeze and throwing Day-Glo frisbees, and just generally acting like she had the Annette Funicello role in a bad lesbian version of 'Beach Blanket Bingo'.

Sara kicked up a few rocks with her sore toes, and finally just said "Screw it", and plunked her butt right down in about a foot of  shallow water on the shore, her skirt lifting lazily each time a wave rolled in.  She had decided to toss the unlucky skirt, and the shoes, and even the damned low cut blouse as soon as she got home, and just wear shorts and t-shirts for the duration of the summer. What good is being an ex-movie star if you can't impress the right people?  Sure, she had bamboozled Roger Stevens, and his ditzy wife. But the fact that some know-it-all, fresh from college twit had turned her down as though she was asking the impossible really got her nonexistent nuts in a twist. Mo Dean, you're a peach, but your sister is a little bitch.

The more Sara thought about it, as the waves lapped up to her waist where she was sitting in the water, the more she thought that everything that had happened in the last few days could be attributed to the fact that Chloe wasn't here.  Although the rational part of Sara's brain knew quite well that the events of the last few days were certainly not the redhead's fault, the part that was directly connected to her bruised and hurting heart knew exactly where to lay the blame. Her heart and that other, irrational part of her brain worked together to drown out the rational part of her brain, and instead of relaxing in the surf, she progressively began to get more agitated, and began tossing small rocks out in front of her. Then she looked around her in the water for bigger stones, and began throwing them with anger powered strength as far as she could. Something inside her wanted to howl out her misery, but she opted again and again to throw those stones until her arm was aching with fatigue and she had depleted the nearby suitable rock supply. Although she was sitting in the cool waters of Lake Erie, she was sweating profusely. Finally having run out of shards of stone to toss, she stood up, looked at the horizon, and took a few long splashing steps farther out and deeper into the lake, and threw herself in and swam underwater long after she thought her lungs would burst.  Her head came up from out of the water, and after pushing her soaked hair out of her eyes, she saw she was a goodly distance from the shore. She turned, treading water until her eyes met the far, hazy horizon again.  It looked the same there as from the shoreline she had just left, unchanged and as unreachable as before.

This time, she couldn't hold the frustrated howl back.

Dave walked into the kitchen after dusk and into something he'd never witnessed before. Both his nephew and sister conversing in loud voices. Voices filled with anger and disapproval, with accusation and distrust, with defensiveness and hurt.

"What's going on?"  Dave noticed how Nelson was leaned back in his kitchen chair, and how Sara was leaning across the table at him, almost pushing him farther back with her offensive posture.

Nelson folded his arms, and rocked dangerously on the edge of the back feet of his chair. "I don't know, ask her."  His face was taut with tightjawed defiance.

Sara didn't bother to even turn towards Dave as she answered. She kept her eyes glued on Nelson's face, and he continued to refuse to look at her. Her tone was low and accusatory. "I was just asking Nelson here where the hell he took my car last night. Out until almost midnight."

Nelson just glanced at her before he looked at his dad, who stood at the end of the table with a perplexed look on his face. "I told her I forgot about the time, I was with Jeanette, and we were ..."

Dave cleared his throat quietly, and gave Nelson a small grimace of apology before he commented, "Nels, I called Jeanette's house at eleven. Her mom said she was already in bed. So, where were you?"  He hated confronting his son like this when Sara already seemed to have the young man on the ropes, but it appeared that Nelson was flat out lying to his sister, and he wanted to know why. This was not like Nelson, not at all.

Nelson's expression got very tense, and he looked away from both of them. He gritted his teeth and thought a moment, before he replied, his anger infusing his words. "So, I took a drive, that's all.  Since when is that a crime around here?  That's our big friggin' hobby around here, taking drives!  We did it yesterday with the new 'bus', and then, I did it after I left Jeanette's house. End of story."  He shrugged, and rocked back again in his chair, pushing it to the limits of vertical stability.

Sara was sure there was more to it than this.  Her nasty mood from the earlier part of the day carried over in how she spoke to her nephew now. "Listen, Nelson,  that's fuckin' bullshit and you know it. You said you'd be back in a while, you weren't, and now you're lying to us. You were out drinking with one of those asshole buddies of yours, weren't you?"

Nelson glared at her. "I've borrowed the Comet before, and no harm's come to it, has it?  You KNOW I'm always careful with it. God fuckin' forbid something should happen to your goddamned precious Comet!"

Dave stood up, his own ire rising. "Nelson, do NOT use that kind of language with your Aunt!"

Nelson's eyes grew wide, and he pushed his chair away from the table so he could face his red-faced father. "Why the hell not?  She swears like a truck driver, all the time, in front of me, and I'm not allowed to?  Since when?"

Dave stepped closer to the table, and leaned his hands on it. "Since the day you were born, and until the day that you die, buddy. You will NOT talk to her that way. Because you're using it to put her down. There's a difference. I don't need to explain that difference to you, you know exactly what I mean."

Nelson knew, but wasn't about to admit it. He just rolled his eyes. "Whatever."

Sara had been quiet long enough. "My goddamned fuckin' Comet is about the only thing ... only possession I have that is worth a good goddamned, that's why.  I may have to end up SELLING the damned Comet just so I can get this damned house. So yeah,  I'm concerned. If you felt like taking a joyride, you should have returned the car and come and got your truck.  But you sit there and lie about it,  don't even apologize about it, and -"

Nelson had enough. He pushed himself up from his chair, and stood up, staring coldly at his Aunt.  She returned the look in kind. He clenched his fists, took a breath, and exploded. "Fine. I won't touch the Comet ever again.  I'm sorry I took it last night, I'm sorry I was late, I'm sorry you're being such a goddamned BITCH about it."  He looked like he was about to either punch something or burst into tears, he was so upset. He strode past them, out the screen door and into the night.

Dave followed and watched out the screen door as Nelson got into his truck and slammed the door. He started the engine, and the sound of gravel flying as he jammed it into gear were the only sounds Sara could hear from her seat at the table.

Dave blew out a breath as he watched Nelson's truck go up the drive. "Goddamn it!"

Sara was still percolating away at the table. She kept shaking her head, and finally she smacked the tabletop with the heel of her hand. "What is his PROBLEM?  Did you hear how he talked to me?"

Dave nodded in her direction, although she wasn't looking his way. "Did you hear how YOU were talking to him?"

Sara turned in her chair, and looked at her brother. "What?"  Dave just stared at her, waiting for his question to make an impact. She tilted her head, and her voice dropped to more normal, but defensive tones. "Well, what do you expect? I was just asking him ..."

Dave moved over and sat down kitty corner from her. "No, you were just accusing him of taking your car, getting drunk in it or something just as juvenile, and then suggesting that he treats it no better than he would a demolition derby junker."

Sara just humphed and played with the corner of a sunflower patterned placemat.

Dave leaned in closer. "I've seen that boy just about pummel Justin when that idiot dared lean his BUTT on the Comet. That boy loves that car just as much as you do. You know it.  He's the first one to run out the door to make sure the windows are up in it when it used to rain around here!  He helps you polish and wax the damned thing.  I've passed him on the highway when you've let him drive it, he never takes it over 45 miles an hour.  He took a damned 30 gallon garbage bag with him the night he and Jeanette double dated with Justin and Heather at the drive-in.  I heard Justin complaining about it the next day. Nelson made Justin and Heather wear the garbage bag as a bib because they were eating popcorn in the backseat of your Comet. Now tell me, does that sound like a kid who is out tearing up the highway at all hours of the night, looking to beat your car to smithereens?"

Sara's face had contorted from anger to supplication. "No." she said quietly.  She glanced quickly at her brother. "So then why ..."

Dave leaned back in his seat. "You got me by the nuts. I haven't got a clue. All I can think is maybe he DID go for a ride. He's got a lot on his plate lately, and when you think about it, the kid is leaving to go live across the country pretty soon, in a matter of days, his girlfriend is going to be in college states away, and ..."

"And I'm being a goddamned bitch about my car."  Sara sighed. "I'm being an asshole."

Dave patted her hand lightly. "Yeah, you are.  I know your life isn't all that great right now, and today didn't help.  But at least your sweetie will be on a plane and coming home to you in just a few days.  Him,  well, I wouldn't blame him if he drove off a tank of gas every night until he leaves for California.  Driving. That's when we do our best thinking, you know?"

Sara couldn't have felt any lower if she was in the basement chambers of the sunken city of Atlantis. "I'll tell him I'm sorry.  I don't know what came over me. I'm such an ass."

Dave changed the subject abruptly, but knew his sister would easily catch on to what he was trying to say. "Why don't you just call her, Sara?  Tell her you miss her and can't wait for her to come home?  Maybe she'll say the same thing, and you can go around the rest of the week with a smile on your face, instead of looking like you want to get into a fight with everyone that dares step foot in your path?"

Sara leaned into her hands, and rubbed them across her eyes and cheeks and left them there, propping up her head. "She hasn't called me, Dave. Not once. It's Tuesday, and I haven't heard anything since the day she left. And to be honest, " she uncovered one eye to look at him, "I did try to call, a couple of times now and she's never there. No answer in her room."

"Did you leave a message?"

Sara squeezed her cheeks into her nose and grunted. "No. Can't say I did. I couldn't think of what to say."

"I think 'I love you' would get the point across, don't you?" Dave said gently.

Sara snorted quietly, and then leaned back and stretched, and smiled cynically at her brother. "Tell you what, do me favor. I'll give you the number, and you leave that message for her." She said it with sarcasm, and was surprised when it wasn't returned in reply.

"Be happy to."

Sara laughed incredulously, and raised an eyebrow at her brother. "You're gonna call her, and say, 'I love you' to Chloe's voice mail at the hotel?"

Dave chuckled too, but then his face turned thoughtful again. "Sure. I do love her. She's ... family, Sara. Maybe she needs to know that. That we all consider her a part of the family."

"She already knows that, Dave."

Dave quirked a brow at her. "Are you sure?  I think she feels a bond to us all, but maybe it's just one on one, but does she know that's she's a D'Amico now? And that in some small way, just because we all love her so much, that we're all honorary Donahues, too?"

Sara couldn't help herself. Her brother's sweet words hit that spot that was so sore and hurting in her and hit it so directly that the anger and tension and fears of the last few days all coalesced into the beginning of tears.  She did something she hadn't done since the day her big brother left home to begin college. She looked at him, her blue eyes blurring, and he got up and knelt next to her as his little sister let it all go and cried without shame in her brother's arms.

Marcy entered the kitchen after making a late night trip up to Chloe's to fetch her mail and water the flowers and tomatoes after the sun had gone down.  Dave lifted a finger to his lips, and then pointed into the darkened living room.

"What's going on?" Marcy whispered as she took in Sara's sleeping form on the couch.

Dave smiled and gave her a kiss on the temple as they both watched her sleep. "She had a bad day, and well, ended up yelling at Nelson, and then ... well, I don't think she's been sleeping very well, if at all, down at her bungalow, so I kind of suggested she sleep up here tonight."

Marcy shook her head, a few curls coming loose from the multicolored scarf holding it back. She leaned into her lover, and felt his arm slip comfortably around her waist. She turned and questioned him as quietly as she could, "Yelling at Nelson?"

Dave just nodded at her.

Marcy looked back at Sara again. "Wow.  She really did have a bitch of a day, huh?"

Dave squeezed her in agreement. "Yeah. How about we hit the sack?  Sara and I have the course duty early tomorrow morning."

Marcy rested a hand on his arm. "OK, well, Nelson's always quiet as a mouse when he comes in, so he won't wake her."

Dave peered out into the darkness of the living room, and listened to the reassuring sounds of Sara's quiet snoring. "I don't think a twenty-one gun salute would wake her right now. It'll be good for her to get a solid night's sleep here."

"Couldn't hurt."  Marcy smiled, and turned out the kitchen light. They moved silently together towards the bedroom.

Down at Sara's bungalow, the phone rang exactly four times before the answering machine picked up. Whoever it was didn't leave a message.

Continued in Part 14

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Email me with feedback:  LA Tucker