Beneath The Brambles, Chapter 10

The tour continued with brief pieces of information being supplied to the big-city woman as they rode down Bender.

Harley politely pointed out all the places any visitor to town might need to find, the pharmacy, the dental office, the hardware cum furniture cum fabric store, the gas station and the convenience store it housed in the office.

She also pointed out those places that one might need to know if one were to move to Bramble as a permanent residence, the post office, the gas and electric sub station, the volunteer fire department and the tiny office that housed the phone company.

All the while she would pepper her remarks with who owns what and the hours or days they were open.  Never having lived anywhere that she couldn't find nearly anything she wanted twenty four hours a day, Shasta was stunned to here that the convenience store was inconveniently closed on Sundays.  When you grow up with a 7-11 on every corner and super markets and discounts stores open all the time, it felt a little scary to know that.
What if she woke up at 3:30 in the morning and wanted Rasinettes?  What if she needed Tampex? Gods, how did these people cope?  Maybe she better take a good look around tonight when she got home to make sure she had everything.  Being a writer meant she worked whenever she felt the urge to write, in addition to those hours she forced herself to. She had a clear recollection of traveling to Westwood one night at 4:40 in the morning to get those great Biscotti they only sold at Antony's all night deli. She simply had to have it when she was in the middle of writing that Italian Riviera breakfast-on-the-beach scene.  She started to panic and her breathing picked up. Ye gods, what do I do if I run out of cigarettes?

"... and that's Tarantella Caprioli's place.  She teaches chorus at the high school and gives voice lessons to the local kids who..." The brunette suddenly noticed the furrowed brow and the uneven breathing of her passenger.  Then she watched as she started to pat her pockets frantically.

"What is it?" Her brow furrowed as her question went unanswered and the activity of looking for something, desperately, seemed to increase.

"Emily?" No answer.  "Emily, what's wrong?  What is it?"

"Muh... my cigarettes.  I can't find them... and I, I can't drive and I ... what if I run out or something.  I can't remember if I bought any at the store."  Her words were tumbling out in a rush and her breath was short.

"Emily.  It's OK.  Really."  She reached over and patted the smaller woman on the arm, then squeezed it a bit.  "It's really OK.  We'll stop and buy you some.  Do you want to do it now, or would like to get the tape-recorder first.  Either way is fine with me. Don't worry.  We'll do it!"

"Okay."  She inhaled a deep, calming breath.  "Okay, that's great." She realized her little panic attack needed some explanation. Ye gods, she must think I'm nuts, either that or an addict.

"I guess you wondered what just happened here, huh?"

"Actually, no.  I'm pretty sure you were just having a little panic attack.  I've seen them before when we've had visitors or relatives come to stay for a while."  She turned a little and smiled gently at her.  "We call it the rolling-up-the sidewalks syndrome."

"Huh?" She queried.

"You see it's like this.  The big city seems to breed a certain type of person.  That type of person, when they get to a place like this and are forced to stay for a while, generally have a few stages of adjustment to work through. The first is usually their fear of being denied the kind of instant gratification they're used to. It has a tendency to panic them a little.  The idea of not being able to go out for ice cream in the middle of the night if they feel like it, sends some people running right out of town."  She smiled again.  "My Aunt Penny didn't even make it through the first evening," she chuckled a little at the memory.

"After Mom and Dad gave her the tour and she saw the size of the town; that was it for her. By sunset she was resting in a nice suite, surrounded by room service in Santa Barbara.  The whole visit took place between the hours of eight A.M. and five P.M. over the course of two weeks.  She just drove up every morning and back down every night."

Harley turned to Emily again.  "At least you lasted longer than most before the syndrome took hold."

That bothered her.  It bothered her a lot.  She really hadn't thought of herself as that self-absorbed.  The truth of the accusation hit her hard.  I guess I really am the instant gratification type, huh? Always before, it was somewhat deniable.  She just thought it was her need to produce.  Maybe her need to actively participate in everything her life offered; lead her to believe she was just doing that which was expedient.  If it was easy to attain what she needed, than that was what she did.  It wasn't until this moment that she realized, it wasn't grabbing a hold of what she needed that was at issue.  It was the fact that she always assumed she could have what she wanted as well.  That she could have what she wanted right now and not think about it.  She felt decidedly disappointed in herself, and she had never felt that way before.

She was also determined that she never wanted to feel this way again. "Don't worry about it."  The look on her face was set with determination.  "I'll be fine.  Now you were saying about the music teacher...?"

Harley was a little taken aback by the look she saw on the smaller woman's face.  She knew that look.  She saw it on her own face often enough.  It was that, take-no-prisoners expression she got before she went into court or whenever she felt she'd been slacking off on anything she felt counted. She was a little torn about it.  On the one hand, she was glad to find the young woman wasn't as vapid as she'd supposed and she was happy to see her assert herself to change for the better.  On the other hand, she was a little ashamed of herself for having upset the woman's opinion of herself.  It obviously surprised Emily to realize that she was just like the rest of the tourists here, and she hadn't been happy about it.  She searched for a way to soften the blow, but could think of nothing to say.  Sometimes, Harley, you just get way too bold with that mouth of yours.

"Did Mom tell you anything about Tarantella when she gave you the lowdown on the town this morning?"

"Nope, I know I'd remember that name. So what's the story?"

She gave a small laugh and began.  "Actually, I'm surprised.  Tarantella is one of our local legends here.  She started her career in Italy and went on to make a name for herself in Vienna."

"Singing, right?"

"Oh, yeah, but she made her voice and name famous as one of the lead soloists for the Vienna Boys Choir." She smiled and tilted he head to the younger woman.

"Okay.  Now the obvious question to ask is, was she a boy at the time or was she a girl in drag?"

"The answer, according to Tarantella would be yes, to both.  She was born Anthony Caprioli and was a boy when she joined the choir.  When her voice changed, she left and went home to Italy where she sought and found several, at first minor roles in several local opera houses.  Unfortunately at that time she realized she was playing the wrong roles. She secretly longed for the ingénue parts and fervently prayed to be cast as the leading diva's understudy.  It was at this point she realized she was somehow out of step with the way she saw herself and the way the world saw her."

Harley made a turn to the left just past the Burger King and continued.

"Realizing that something needed to be done about this and that what was necessary was impossible in Italy, she saved her money and went to Switzerland for her operation. After her extended recovery, she came to the states and began to make a name for herself on Broadway.  I've read the reviews.  According to them, she had star written all over her and they praised her as the best thing to hit Broadway since Mary Martin.  Unfortunately, it couldn't last."

"Why?"  The word came out sounding nearly indignant.  It made the brunette smile to herself that this little writer could be so righteous on Tarantella's behalf, even though they had never met.  She liked her even more because of it.

"Perhaps, not for the reason you think.  Her family was very wealthy and fairly famous back in Italy and as a result, she knew she could never tell them about herself and made peace with the fact she would never see them again.  She did love them, however, very much, especially her mother, who always encouraged her to pursue her career.  She had been writing to them and told them that she had gotten some good reviews on Broadway and that she was auditioningfor the Metropolitan Opera.  She knew that due to her mother's very bad heart, her mother would never make the trip over here and her brother, who took over the business when her father had passed years ago, had nothing but disdain for America. Since he was the head of the household and all her younger siblings looked to him for support, she knew he would never allow them to make the trip. She thought she was safe, that she had changed her looks enough, as well as her name, that no one she knew would make the connection and get back to her family."

"I take it that's not what happened, right?"  Emily squirmed a little in her seat.  She was caught up in the story and the other revelations of the inhabitants of the little town made her want to see the place in a less biased way.  Dividing her attentions between the Sheriff and the buildings she passed, she tried to absorb it all.

"Right. Opening night of her first lead role as Maria in The Sound Of Music in a theatre so close to Broadway, it took you less than two minutes to walk there, a group of diplomats arrived with some guests from out of town and took over front row center." Harley stopped glancing at her and started to pay more attention to the road.  They were ascending a very rough dirt road, and were surrounded by dense trees.

"At intermission, she was told she had a visitor and, since she had changed, she invited them in.  Needless to say, she was stunned to see her older brother.  Evidently, she hadn't changed all that much and he recognized her immediately.  Their conversation was brief and to the point.  She was never to return home and she was to quit performing for good.  He didn't care where she went but she was never to appear as a paid performer again.  In exchange, he would send her a check every month to help her support herself.  She was to continue to write to her mother and tell her she changed professions and was living quietly due to ill health.  That was the excuse she was to use to keep her from coming home.  If she did all this, he would not tell her mother how she had disgraced her. Seeing that she had no choice, she agreed. She moved here a few months later and has been here since."

Emily was about to say something when Harley began speaking again.  The tone of her voice was much softer and the look in her eyes, beautiful.

"So she sings only for herself and friends now.  Everyday, at about six in the morning she does her scales and then, oh, Emily, the world lost a gift when she was forced into seclusion.  After her scales, she sings for almost an hour.  It was never the same songs two days in a row. When I was in high school, I used to make a practice, on days when the weather was good, to park outside her house before I went to school just to listen to her. She'd leave the windows open and the music was... wonderful."  She seemed to come back to herself, then.  "If you'd like, I can pick you up one day this month and we'll stop by and listen."

Oh yeah.  She wanted that very much.  She wanted to share something with Harley that obviously meant so much to her. I want to mean so much to her.  I want to share something, special and wonderful with her.  For just a moment, she was irrationally jealous of everything that had ever made the dark woman happy when she wasn't there to share it.  Gods, what a petty thought.  What a selfish thing to think. Before she got too deeply entrenched in that line of thinking, Harley interrupted her.

"Do you think you'd like that?"  When she got no immediate response, she added, "I know it's awfully early and you might not be the kind who likes to get up that early, so.."

"NO!" Emily realized she was too loud and tried again.  "No, what I mean is I would really love that.  As a matter of fact, I'll even buy breakfast.  How does that sound?"

She smiled and then thought of something.

"Oh, wait.  I don't even know if there's any place in town open that early.  Is there?"

Harley reassured her there was, just as she turned into a sloping gravel driveway.  It wound its way around and thru several trees before it stopped at a large garage.  Connected to the garage on the right was a two story A-frame house.  What first appeared to be cedar shingles were, upon closer inspection, ceramic tiles..  As Emily exited the car and approached the wide front porch, she took a deep breath and the only scent she could detect was the smell of the forest.  Green things and leaf mold and black earth churned in a bouquet that left the memory of the city far behind.  It was glorious.

The Sheriff watched her as she inhaled deeply and couldn't keep the smile off her face as she leaned past her to unlock one of the two doors. Opening it, she offered, "Would you like the grand tour?"

"Of course. Lead the way." She said, as swept her arm out inviting the taller woman to enter first.

Stepping past the threshold, she entered a small area with a short bench built into the wall on each side. She could see a closet just past it as you stepped down the two steps to the sunken living room. Just as she cleared the bottom steps, she was stunned to see an entire wall of glass to her left facing into the forest beyond.  It extended from the floor to the apex of the A-frame.  The late afternoon sunlight streaming in the window left a myriad of shadows on the shiny wooden floors as it darted in and out of the tall trees. The furnishings were sparse, but large.  A long, wide deep-brown sectional sofa faced the window with a low oval table fronting it. The table was covered in mosaic tiles in green, rust, brown and gold, and covered by beveled glass.

The kitchen was an extension of the room to the right and next to that was a spiral staircase leading to the upper floor.  To the right of the staircase was more living room.

As she turned to see it, the focal point of this room stood out.  It was a huge fireplace with an intricately carved wooden mantle. Sitting in front of it was an Indian rug and behind that a smaller sofa in dark tan leather.  Behind the sofa sat a smallish wood dining table and two chairs.  Outside of the occasional lamp and lots of plants, hanging or standing everywhere, there was no more furniture.

Even though the ceiling was lower in this half of the room, it left Shasta with the impression of open space, clean air and warmth.  It was a delightful place and she really wanted to just sit down and stay a while.

As the writer was studying the space, the Sheriff was studying her. Without having said a word the officer could tell she liked it here. She looks just right here, kind of at home. Look at the way the sunlight catches her hair. She blinked and realized, quite coincidentally, the woman was wearing the same colors the room was adorned in.  She had on deep green cargo pants with socks to match and brown penny loafers.  Her sweater was long and soft, cashmere or maybe Angora.  In moss green with a geometric pattern of rust, gold and dark brown just above her breasts and it fell in a soft curl with an oversized collar around her neck. What a beautiful picture she makes. I'd like to see her right here, like that, for a long time. As the blonde turned and caught her eye, she remembered to speak.

"As you can tell, this is the living room.  And over here," she walked backward and swept her arm to the right, "is the kitchen.  It's not used often so it still looks fairly good.  It's hard to be satisfied with canned soup or hamburger helper when your mother's a world-class chef.  As a result, I don't eat at home much."  She quirked her mouth up on one side and the writer nodded in understanding.

That brought to mind the realization that she had never gotten the question answered she'd asked her at the station.  Now was the time to get it.

"So I guess that means that you, uh, live alone?" Her brow ascended a little as she tilted he head in, what she hoped appeared as, casual interest.

 "Yeah." She didn't offer more and waited for the blonde to ask.  At least she hoped she would.

"Then, may I take that to mean you have no significant other?"

"You may." She offered a small, sexy smile that seemed to indicate she was sharing some kind of secret with the blonde.

Before the banter could be returned, Harley said.  "Now if you will be so good as to follow me we will take a tour of the second floor." Turning she took the few steps necessary and lead her upstairs.

Emily had kind of been expecting a loft.  That was the usual habit in A-frames she'd been in or seen in magazines, but at the top she found a solid looking wall with a double door in front of her.  She guessed she was now facing the front of the house and if the wall had a window she would have been able to see the car in the driveway.

Once again, Harley opened one of the French doors in front of her and offered her entry.  She took it this time and found herself in Harley's bedroom. This is good.  This is very good. She knew she was grinning like a maniac so she made a point of turning away from Harley to inspect the room.  It was much larger than she would have predicted. A king size bed sat low on the floor with a pedestal base. The linens were dark burgundy and black satin with an oriental style comforter over it.  Two small black lacquered nightstands held an incense holder and candle on the right and a cordless phone and a small lamp on the left.  There was nothing else in the room but the windows.  They were uncovered with black rattan blinds curled up above them.  It seemed to her that the room extended out toward the back of the house much too far.  It had windows on all the walls except the one to her far right where she reasoned the bathroom or closet must be.  As she got closer to the window facing the rear she noticed another door that blended in with the golden wood paneling so well, she would have missed it had she not been so close.  It had no door handle as such, but a small wooden pull was attached high up on the right corner. She turned with the question in her eyes and Harley answered it before she could ask it.

"No, you're not wrong. It is larger than the room below it and you're confused because you haven't seen the rest of the house.  Allow me."  She opened the door behind her and confirmed Shasta's prediction by showing her a walk-thru closet.  Clothes were lining the walls on hangers from rods on one side and in drawers and compartments on the other side.  At the other end was another door which led to a bathroom appointed almost identically to the one at Stephanie's house except that the whole room was done in black and gray.  The window the bath looked over was the side of the yard they had entered from and through it, Shasta could see a small stream just ahead, beyond a dozen trees or so.

She was about to ask her about the coincidental taste in bathroom design she and Stephanie shared when she was guided out of the bathroom and back toward the hidden door.  The Sheriff kept up a running narrative of how she had helped to design the house when she decided to live on her own, and how a fabulous carpenter in town named Bailey did the woodwork on the mantle.

They got to the door,  Harley pushed at the top corner, which made the door spring open and they entered another winding staircase. This one covered in the same plush gray carpeting that covered the bedroom floor and led down to a small, enclosed area with a door on each side. Harley opened the one on the right and they entered what must be her office.  This room was done in black and burgundy with a very modern theme.  The plush black leather chair behind the expensive black desk looked out onto the back of the house through a sliding glass door.  The room was filled with filing cabinets and occasional chairs trimmed in chrome.  Behind her chair Emily saw several diplomas and as she tried to get a closer look, she felt her arm gently caught as she was re-directed out the door.

The room across the hall was her gym. Black and blue mats covered the whole floor and once again a full wall to her right was floor to ceiling windows.  The opposite wall was nothing but mirrors with a bar running it's length midway up.  Scattered around were various machines. There was a rower, a treadmill, a universal gym and two weight benches with racks on the walls holding barbells and dumbbells.

Ye Gods! I knew her family had money, I just never expected this.  I wonder what the Home Ravensdown looks like? I sure as hell hope she didn't get this in the divorce settlement.  I love this place, and it would kill me to know she's shared it with some one else.  Every room is different.  Different colors, different themes.  Like her.  So many sides, so many people in that same beautiful, perfect package. She briefly saw her again as she stood over her keeping that animal from doing what he planned.  Then there was the compassionate caregiver who had taken her to the doctor and carried her to bed.  Not to mention the teasing sibling she saw with Cole, or the tempting seductress she played with all day.  Just how many sides are there to you Harley?  Are you like this house?  Are there hidden doors that lead to rooms no one would expect?  I want to know!  I'm going to stick around until I've found all of them.  Then she wondered, What do I do then?   She didn't want to answer that question yet, so she simply ignored it.

Part 11

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