Fifty-Fifty

Number sixteen of my serial fiction. Probably, cherry-picking episodes and putting them here is futile. But I’m always aiming to shoot the moon. So if one person reads this here, and wouldn’t have found it there, why not? And as always, if anyone’s interested in the progression, click here. 

Fifty-Fifty

Typically, when Jasper insisted Sasha check into rehab, she laughed at him.  A nondrinker—a teetotaler—he couldn’t compare bumps or puffs to a splash of wine. So, why she complied now mystified him.

He had assumed she would leap at a divorce that kept their finances intact. Sasha believed he owed her everything. Without her, he couldn’t say who or where he might be.

As for breaking into acting in L.A., she had said, “Leave it to me.” Sasha would discover the one person who could project his handsomeness, his long, strong grace, quick, easy reflexes, and genuine niceness around the world.

In those days, before serious substance abuse, she focused on power: who had it; who didn’t; and how it worked. Once, when she had boasted that she “smelled” power, he had asked why she didn’t accumulate and wield her own.

Her answer? “Too much work.”

They were both 18. Weeks after his mother died, his sister had sent him on to LA, where Sasha was waiting. She greeted him, saying, “Ta da!” Sasha had opened the invisible door. Meaning, she convinced a silent producer, who’d quit drinking for the third time, to hire Jasper  as a personal trainer and all-round companion.

Sasha had been drinking in a packed, rooftop bar when she spotted him. It had taken her half an hour to insinuate herself through the crowd of roaring drunks, grab grab Bill’s hand, and lead him downstairs and outside. Under the streetlights, she peered at him. And yes! He was indeed the obscure 65-year-old power-broker. Hailing a taxi, she pulled him inside and told the driver Griffith Park. They wanted to watch the sun rise.

There, walking around, then sitting on a hillock, Bill confessed that he’d started drinking again when his third wife left hm. Sasha patted his hand, “Poor you,” and remained beside him as the sun rose high. When it vanished inside a blinding white sky, Bill said, “Better check into a hospital.” Sasha’s warmth and understanding (he must have been exceedingly drunk) had convinced him to conquer his alcoholism—again.

“Wait.” Sasha told him that to stay abstinent he needed Jasper. “My husband will set you straight for life.”

Jasper had probably laughed at this. She gave Jasper a phone number, which he expected to be a joke.

But Bill answered. They met and he offered Jasper a full-time job that paid more than he needed, even with Sasha demanding they split his earnings fifty-fifty. After all, she had discovered Bill and his secret clout. Besides, they were married.

Jasper agreed.

And what luck! He liked Bill. Jasper needed everyone to like him.

Bill chatted happily while Jasper coaxed him through the circuit machines in his mansion’s oxygen-rich gym. After lunch, Jasper spied the golf clubs.

“Do you play?”

Bill loved the game until last ex-wife had said—her or golf.

“So let’s golf.” Growing up in Sedona, Arizona, Jasper had caddied at the resorts since he was ten. He could easily find fail-safe corrections for a non-professional.

They spent two full days selecting a new set of clubs. Jasper studied Bill handling each one and assessed his swing, chip, and put. They practiced at dawn. With Jasper caddying, Bill won every game. And every time, his friends were amazed. Later, by Bill’s pool, sipping Jasper’s icy concoction of ginger-lemon tonic, they reviewed his game that day and devised strategies so Bill could choose whether to come from behind, lead the whole way, or win in a squeaker.

Soon, Bill was spending more time in long, private phone conversations. So Jasper swam or worked out as he wished. Then Bill told him that even at 18, Jasper personified the clairvoyant child psychiatrist, “Dr. Monroe,” star of Children’s Minds. Bill arranged an audition.

Years in the making, Children’s Minds aimed to reestablish a cable network’s superiority, and it did, starting with the pilot. Soon, Jasper was very rich. He hired the contingent of experts Bill recommended for his share and didn’t ask about Sasha’s 50 percent. Yet he knew she wasn’t refusing to submit to three months in rehab because of money.

And, she wasn’t desperate to remain his laissez-faire wife because of the kids. Her pregnancies, and the total abstinence they had required, followed from intense infatuation.  With Dex, she had longed for their neighbor, Caroline and her bare, burgeoning tummy. Four years later, Ivy was conceived when Sasha asked her girlfriend, Rosalie, if she was a teetotaler like Jasper. Draped in layers of patterned silk, Rosalie pressed Sasha’s hands against her belly. “Feel him?”

Both times, Sasha immediately became pregnant. She and her pregnancy girlfriend attended birthing classes together. They discussed nutrition, cravings, and discomforts. Once Caroline and Rosalie became mothers, however, Sasha’s enchantment ended.

Now, preparing for rehab, she said, “Promise you won’t divorce me,” and clung to Jasper—a first.

The treatment isolated her. She and Jasper could talk only when her therapists arranged conference calls—twice. Sasha’s addictions required lifelong vigilance. His abstinence would help. Jasper almost said they spent minimal time together, but decided the therapists must have already discussed his and Sasha’s marriage. He had no idea what Sasha might have told them, however.

Home in March, she was terribly swollen and lethargic. As if bubble-wrapped in apathy, she never left her room. Jasper entered only to tell her that his screen test for James Bond had gone well. He shot guns, said catch-lines like he meant them, and ordered martinis as the world surrounding him blew up.

Sasha said, “Dex hates me.”

“Some boys act like that.” Jasper didn’t remind her that she had encouraged the kids to prefer Inez.

Or, that Dex talked about Brooke in a way that sent Jasper into incredible reveries. After an hour or a even a moment, he woke, exposed.

Mostly, he worried about going to France. He left in 10 days but hadn’t told Sasha. Spending three weeks to make Marie Deux Fois seemed selfish.

by kathleenmaher

HONOR THY FATHER

The first song is “Moanin’,” which was first recorded by Art Blakey. Charles Mingus did a great version. One of my favorite singers, José James, does a great version with scat singing. A remix by Aoba includes nearly continuous vocals–but they’re all about the other kind of “moaning–and my father would not have appreciated them. (He wasn’t big on hip-hop.) He would, and I think did, like the Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross recording, Not sure if I remember him playing it when I was a baby or not.

My father was hard-driving and stoic. He had many, daily reasons for “Moanin’” but never did–not where I could hear, anyway. A little moanin’ might have done him good, but his daughters were masterful at it. Besides, he knew what was best for him, and was quite sure he knew what was best for his family. And what was best was often not what we wanted, in the moment. He took the long view. I should have listened to him much more than I did!

The next song is for my husband, “One for Daddy-O,” by Cannonball Adderley. Manny rarely goes to bed without listening to Cannonball for half an hour while reading the kind of book that immediately makes you sleepy. If nothing else, I  was lucky in choosing a great father for my children. (Not incidentally, he’s a great husband to his often childish wife, who demands a great deal more patience and uplifting than either of our kids ever have.) He compensates for my perpetual, if unintentional, failings as a person.

Whether you’re a biological father or not, everyone should father someone! So many children grow up never knowing a father’s love, be it good or not. What doesn’t seem  “good” in the moment is often what defines us. Fatherhood doesn’t need to be official or constant. But show a child some fatherly love, no matter who you are.

 

No Return

Here’s another mid-serial episode from James Bond and the Girls of Woodstock. I intend to finish to serial at the half-way mark on Pure Fiction within a month or so.Word-count restraints hamper the action and flow. And while the series found few readers and no real followers, I nevertheless think the structure, using the two main characters’ point of view in third person, would work in a novel. Attempting this section online, which is too long despite my relentless rewrites, was fun and instructive, at least for me.

Vicky copy

Jasper had arrived home four hours ago. From his tower, the main house appeared sealed shut. The sun still glinted a blinding reflection off the yellow Mustang. He sent his sister a text. Could use your advice.

She rarely texted back.

Vicky knew him better than he knew her, because of being six years older. With all his fame and fortune, she insisted he not disrupt her equanimity. But early on, he had gotten her to agree to an annual phone call, which sometimes recurred in Jasper’s mind like a childhood song.

Every January, Vicky said Jasper’s boundless good luck meant one thing: Pay back the universe!  Who knew why one person should be so lucky? Jasper was born with sure-fire timing, extraordinary good looks, and an easy but sincere personality capable of sympathy. Loaded with these advantages plus countless more, Vicky said, he should strive for real, rather than popular, achievement.

He would laugh, saying popularity was unpredictable. He did his best and worked hard.

“For a movie star,” she said.

“True,” but he was learning all the time.

“And you’re generous to a fault.” The swimming pool he had installed and maintained in the backyard where they’d grown up together was one thing. Vicky swam a mile every day. She liked hosting pool parties. But his other gifts? She recognized what was rare and beautiful, not a replica, plain brown box or not. Thank you, she said, but “Treasures make no sense for a fifth grade teacher in Sedona.”

Jasper suggested she travel during the summers. He’d supply the funds minus any obligation to see him or his children. “Although, I’d love a postcard.”

She laughed again. He loved her and the sound alone cheered him.

“Maybe next year,” she said. Her rule that he leave her alone hurt him…when he let it.

Two years ago, she asked for photographs of the kids–and a short, informal video. She promised her severity wasn’t forever. So, Jasper collected hopeful signs. Such as: Vicky no longer maintained that he was past the point of no return. His success had not entirely rendered him sheen on a screen.

His amused response sounded real but wasn’t. Rest assured, he said. The camera was incapable of stealing a pixel of one’s soul.

“Unlike money and power.”

True. But she should knew him better than that. He reminded her that once upon a time, he was innocent.

Jasper’s earliest memories consisted of pleasing his mother, Sylvia, and his sister, Vicky, who shared a principled but gentle temperament. Only after Sylvia died did Vicky become stringent. When he, she, and their mother had lived together, they respected and reassured each other. But Jasper was always the lucky one. Whatever he said or did caused Sylvia and Vicky to laugh like bright waves upon waves. Jasper was so much fun, they had smiled at the sight of him.

Until, he changed from a bashful 12-year-old into an uncommonly tall and handsome 16-year-old. Vicky returned home from college to find him radiating the same surplus energy and confidence as now. Jasper flowed through the household, creating irresistible force.

But he hadn’t agitated Vicky until he hooked up with her friend Crystal. Vicky had returned to Tucson for her teaching degree. Crystal had stayed in Sedona to run her family’s vortex shop. Jasper was a senior in high school. Crystal pursued him in a new Subaru. Instead of a ride home, she offered him no-strings interludes. He hadn’t hesitated, and was astonished when Vicky blamed him, not Crystal.

Why?

Because Crystal didn’t have half of what Jasper had. Her argument had stymied him. He apologized to Vicky, and if she wished, he’d apologize to Crystal.

Vicky did not—wish! Yet before she could inform their mother of Jasper’s shameless disrespect, their mother reported she had untreatable stomach cancer. After which, nothing else mattered.

Now, from his tower, Jasper stared again at the sun’s undiminished glare bounding around his listless home.

The summer Sylvia was dying, he and Vicky sat beside her bed. If he hadn’t already disappointed his mother, he might not have found the wherewithal to hurt her when he was desperate to comfort her. But if he didn’t tell her what he’d done, she’d die deceived. Her pain escalated. The truth came out. He had turned down the basketball scholarship. Jasper was athletic, not an athlete, and they all knew it.

Sylvia shivered.

But Jasper pushed ahead. He didn’t know who he was or what he wanted. The scholarship should go to someone else.

Their mother’s eyelids fluttered and Vicky hissed in fury. “Go to class, go to practice, play your position. It’s that simple!”

Their mother sat up in bed and said, “Marry Sasha.”

Surprise and wonder raced between brother and sister: How did she even know who Sasha was?

Their mother said Sasha knew what she wanted and how to get it.

Vicky practically screamed. Sasha’s parents had been careful all their lives not to have children. A last minute miscalculation and they got—a total terror.

Sylvia sank into her pillows, saying she was thirsty. Vicky followed Jasper into the kitchen. He poured cool water into the cup with the straw attached. Vicky said, “Tell Mom yes, but don’t do it.”

“No, I can do this.”

Their mother moaned. In her bedroom, Jasper bent down and clasped her shaky hands between his. “Don’t worry. Sasha and I will get along fine.”

That was 11 years ago. From the tower, he saw the glare beginning to dim and started downstairs. His phone dinged.

Never leave her alone with your kids!

He tapped, How did you know that was my question?

In his head, Vicky said, Obvious.

by kathleen maher

Fleeing the Scene

fiction installment 12~
(Sung, the South Korean force behind the fictional “James Bond” reboot, acts and speaks according to his status and native culture. His English is understandable if sometimes stilted. His dialogue—like Fletcher’s, but for different reasons—is unusual. Unlike Fletcher, however, Sung does not cultivate eccentricity.)

Jasper raced away, wondering how Fletcher had heard of the “multi-hyphenate Korean” preparing to reboot James Bond.

But he wasn’t fleeing Fletcher. He was fleeing Brooke. After her cathartic Hamlet, Jasper had no choice but to run. Although, it wasn’t a choice but rather—had he lost his damned mind?

Despite just glimpses of her teaching Dex to swim and playing with Ivy, Jasper had apparently talked Brooke Logan into some foolhardy scheme, twice. These requests to the gorgeous teenager had been so flagrantly out-of-bounds, he had dismissed their implications—until Fletcher accused him of concealing a feverish desire for her.

Far worse, he had failed to consider her feelings!  Until the town’s renowned alcoholic had asked if she kept him awake at night!

At Hamlet’s end, when Brooke curtseyed on stage, Jasper sprinted to his car. Guilty to the core, he had waited, in case Fletcher might explain Jasper’s rude disappearance as typical of selfish, facile actors.

He hated having Brooke think of him like that, but she deserved an explanation–one he couldn’t and shouldn’t attempt.

After speeding south on 375, he parked in West Hurley and phoned the surveillance company. Could they turn off the power and turn on the monitors in his tower? “My meeting in the city,” he said, “got pushed ahead. I’m leaving tonight.”

A woman whose name he didn’t know said, “Consider it done, Jasper,” and reminded him that his wife had stipulated that someone visit the property each week.

“Great if you do that kind of thing,” he said, thanking her and hanging up.

Good thing he’d refused Sasha’s plan to install lenses throughout Windfalls–a vast and various terrain his wife hadn’t once ventured into, remaining always inside a chauffer-driven SUV or on the deck by the pool.

This way, with no outside, monitors if—no, when—Brooke arrived to watch the movie, no camera would capture her knocking on the tower’s door, ringing the bell, possibly even calling his name. Would she do that?

Well, he had certainly done all he could to prompt that during the few five-minute intervals they were alone. He recalled (although he never really forgot) the unabashed light in her eyes, and the energy between them when he had touched her cheek that time in the tower’s kitchen.

How dare he escort her inside! And while leading her upstairs, explain that many actors live separate from their family while developing a character—as if his acting were of that caliber!

Carefree, nonchalant Jasper King never struggled with these complications. He liked women, not girls, for a season or a shoot, and at the end, they parted fondly. Other than this latest unbelievable blunder, his only mistake may have been Allegra, a dancer who had taught a movement-as-character workshop three years ago in L.A. But that relationship had developed because Sasha liked Allegra’s cocaine.

Scheduled to see Allegra on Monday, he phoned his friend Cliff, who lived in L.A. but kept an apartment in Olympic Towers. Cliff answered on the first ring. “I’ll alert the doorman. But try not to trash the place.”

“You know me,” Jasper said. Afterwards, he arranged for house cleaners, which delighted Cliff, whose other friends supposedly left scum in the tub and the beds a mess.

Two hours later, Jasper turned in his summer rental at 54th St. and arrived at Cliff’s spacious rooms overlooking Central Park. On Saturday, he ran beside the Hudson River and practiced recorded French for a remake of an obscure surreal film. He didn’t speak French and had never been to France. So he presumed he would be dubbed. He was cast because of Children’s Minds–and because he wanted the role. Intent on the cadence necessary for the oo-sounds, he didn’t hear the phone ring at first. He interrupted Sung Il Sung known as Sung, mid-message.

Sung asked to reschedule their meeting, because people in London wanted to thrash through the storyline.

Jasper said, “Any time’s fine.”

They met that afternoon for lunch at Jungsik, an expensive Korean restaurant. Fresh scallops arrived. Sung explained that the new James Bond must be proficient in Taekwondo. “Jeffrey says you have a black belt.”

Jasper smiled. “From an unaffiliated school in Sedona, Arizona 15 years ago.”

Sung nodded. Jeffrey had been his agent, too. “I once sparred with you on Wilshire Boulevard, however. With proper training, you could do well.”

Jasper thanked him.

Sung visited Woodstock frequently for Buddhist retreats. “Tibetan Buddhism is more accepting than Korean Buddhism.”

Jasper took his children to that temple one afternoon. “At ages three and eight, they loved the bright silence.”

Apropos of nothing, Jasper said, “Before I left, I saw a magnificent Hamlet at Woodstock’s Playhouse.”

“I appreciate—magnificence.” Sung lived in Seoul. He had learned English as an adult.

Tasting the watermelon, Jasper felt the phrase and flavor combine.

“And the fight choreography?” Sung asked.

“Fight? Oh, the rapiers. I focused mostly on Hamlet’s death.”

“Interesting. Rapiers should still be thrilling. Do you know sword fighting? Fencing?”

Jasper didn’t.

Sung would enjoy teaching him.

After the interview, Jasper flew home, having forgotten Allegra, whom he phoned in the air. She cursed and hung up.

by kathleen maher

full series here

Come, Come, Mr. Bond

(This is episode 11, from Jasper’s point of view.) 

mrbond

Last summer during Hamlet’s intermission, a very drunk man in his 50s, wearing a beautifully tailored beige summer suit and matching shirt, knocked over chairs, spilling drink from a plastic champagne glass, and stumbled over to Jasper King beneath a rear archway.

“Tell me, please, Dr. Monroe—”

Jasper hated being addressed as his character on Children’s Minds and suspected this man with the slight English accent and precise diction knew it.

The man threw his empty champagne glass on the ground. “—what do you think of Abominable putting the intermission at the end of Mouse Trap?”

“I don’t know what to think. I’m astonished.”

“Of course, but the curtain falling on Claudius’s: ‘Give me some light—away!’ was splendid. Bloody lot of nerve for Abominable to disregard my script. And yet as she has it, nobody will snooze through Hamlet’s aborted voyage to England.” Fletcher inserted a black cigarette into a long black holder and gestured. “No smoking in here but as I was saying—or asking—is Abominable not proof that diabolical imps dart among us?”

“Pardon me?”

“Granted. You may speak candidly. Have her spirit and beauty compromised you? A rude guess but an even wager—yes, she’s obviously discomposed you.”

Watching the cigarette holder between Fletcher’s teeth, Jasper recalled Tara’s opinion of the renowned director. Perhaps, she hadn’t been overly harsh, after all.

He held out his hand, “Pleased to meet you, Mark Fletcher. I’m Jasper King.” and waited while Fletcher capped his flask. The men shook hands without any clenching or clammy limpness.

Fletcher smiled widely and raised his tinted spectacles. “Good Lord, you are magnificent looking. If as reputed, however, you are unpersuadable, I hereby double my bet concerning you and the ravishing Abominable.”

Jasper raised an index finger. “I can’t imagine whom you mean.”

“You said whom—how utterly charming.”

“Mr. Fletcher, if you’ve been referring to Brooke, my children’s care-giver, by some loathsome name, don’t do it again.”

“Slow to catch that, weren’t you? She happens to be my godchild and I’ve always called her that. Save your ultimatum for someone else and heed my evaluation: Your attempt to speak English fails, because you wield a dread bit of knowledge and not a working whole. Fortunately, my affinity for autodidacts is pronounced, because you need me, Jasper King. Thus I shall tutor you next summer, providing you star in my play.”

“Will Brooke assist you?”

“This year, I gave her Hamlet as a testament to her prodigious gifts. The troupe performs Shakespeare exclusively, but never with the lucid complication and catharsis Abominable has orchestrated.”

“I haven’t seen Hamlet before. Of course, I know its reputation. But I didn’t anticipate it to be a revelation.”

“The words are luminous, but most productions are a shambles. Next summer poses an altogether different challenge. The playwright is an untalented, dim-witted boy with a tin ear, whose parents are generous backers. However, I shall direct and you shall learn to speak like an Englishman of the upper military class, which will be crucial for the role the multi-hyphenate Korean is devising.”

“What role and who is your Korean?”

“Come, come, Mr. Bond, you disappoint me…”

The lights dimmed and Fletcher stole the seat next to Jasper, fanning the previous occupant away. He drank from his flask and whispered details Jasper would have missed otherwise. Both men, and the audience in general, experienced Hamlet as a bonafide tragedy, catharsis and all.

After the actors’ curtain calls, when Brooke stood on stage, Jasper King bolted. Fletcher’s mockery about her derailing him barely scratched the surface. The girl had caused him to lose his bearings twice—and that was before he’d recognized even a glimmer of her inner light.

Jasper ran for his rented car and Fletcher wheezed in the distance.

Shifting into reverse, Jasper saw Fletcher still in pursuit and waited a minute.
Reaching the car, the old man heaved, hands on his knees, gasping for breath.

Jasper said, “My apologies but I must leave immediately.”

“Fear not. I shall tell Abominable you simply couldn’t stay long enough to congratulate her.”

Jasper waved and hit the gas. Was it possible she’d see on her own that his invitation to watch a movie had been insanity? No, it was not. He felt sorry and stupid but knew no alternative.

kathleen maher, bigger story here

No Cold Fish

red snapper on ice

Brooke regarded her lunch-time love affair (if that’s what it was) as the ultimate thrill. She loved the sex, not the pass/fail guy, who no longer attended the Greek class. At first, he spouted opinions so odious she recoiled. For example, he hated “females in heat.” Brooke should have demanded he stop the car, gotten out, and walked away without looking back. And, she hated herself for not doing that.

Truth was, she actually cared what the Neanderthal thought about her. To have him or anyone else think she was a creature in heat filled her with scalding shame. Of course, she’d heard his misogynistic shit before. She just hadn’t imagined it would apply to her.

But it did. Brooke craved sex. She worried about keeping her desire hidden and wished she knew more about the telltale signs. Tara no doubt knew them all. But then Tara would never succumb to some asshole’s superficial allure.

Brooke wasn’t so lucky. The guy glanced at her and away, ducked his head to hide a smile and rattled his car keys. And Brooke’s much praised mind and natural refinement vanished.

The passion inside her demanded abandon. And when the pass/fail guy (whose name shall never be mentioned) held her and kissed her, she was too spellbound to care if a conceited pig was involved. With new found marvelousness, she took off her clothes, lay down, sat up, knelt before and behind him, stood up, folded in two–anything he asked. Because bright light flashed inside her. And then she fell like a raindrop glistening on the tip of a flower petal.

Even afterward, the delectable sensations reverberated within a tingling atmosphere that lasted half an hour or so.

As for the guy, he told Brooke she was amazing. They were so in sync he couldn’t believe it. Because she got off even faster than he did. Ordinarily, he had to apologize for coming too soon, but she was always right there, with him.

By now, she realized his mockery of desperate-for-it girls was intended to warn her against hanging around his friends. He especially didn’t want his girlfriend, Abigail, to figure out what they were doing. But he liked it that Brooke laughed and cried afterwards. The lunch time rendezvous took just enough time for them to return to school as if they didn’t know the other’s name.

Still, Brooke’s humiliation before and after never dwindled, although she did rationalize it. Foregoing sex with him would be a punishment. And she endured enough punishment. So if having sex with a guy she didn’t respect and who didn’t respect her disgraced and compromised her, she’d make up for it later. Besides, it was practice. (For what, with whom? She didn’t need to examine her motives yet.)

After a while, however, she stopped suppressing herself. When he raved about how special she was, and how in touch they were, she said. “You told me not to talk about you, so don’t talk about me.”

“Not even when we’re alone. I mean, like this?”

“Noise is okay, but no words.”

“That’s the opposite of most girls.”

Over Christmas vacation, without telling anyone, she went to New Paltz and found a doctor to insert an I.U.D. In case the condom broke. During a three-day weekend in February, the guy’s girlfriend went to Florida with her family. So he invited Brooke to his house to watch Palimony. She claimed she’d seen it, because that was the movie Jasper had invited her to watch. It didn’t matter that he’d ditched her. Anyway, the guy suggested Pipeline, Jasper’s heist movie.

On Saturday, he drove his father’s Mustang to Woodstock. Brooke waited for him at the library and hoped nobody noticed her climbing into the red sports car. He showed her his family’s big beautiful home in Boiceville and assumed she was impressed. (She really wished Fletcher was there to point out every vulgarity.) The guy’s parents were in the city. He and Brooke sat on a white leather couch across from a gigantic screen. Music up and Jasper strolls through an airport. And the guy said, “Why a jag-off like Jasper King gets to star in the best movies is a mystery.”

“You think you’d do better?”

“People tell him what to do. It’s not like he knows.”

Brooke asked to go home.

“After the movie, not now.”

“Yes now.” She found her coat and walked, which took two and a half hours.

When school resumed, she and the guy no longer pretended to ignore each other. They silently projected a distinct dislike, if anything.

One evening, Tara said she stood near him after an assembly. “He turned around, saw me, and announced to like everyone: ‘Brooke Logan is a cold fish.’

I tapped his shoulder and said my sister might be a lot of things, but not–totally not–a cold fish.”

Brooke stared at Tara, oblivious to the tears sliding down her face. “Why tell me that?”

“I was sticking up for you.”

“Really? Now the creep and I are local news.”

“Oh.” Tara apologized and asked, “What happened?”

But Brooke rushed outside and jumped on the bicycle she’d gotten for Christmas.

Tara stood on the top step, yelling, “Why are you upset? You never care what people say!”

kathleen maher, more here

Fletcher Assumes

 

Fletcher Assumes


Fletcher hadn’t answered Brooke’s calls because he had spoken “at some length” with the troupe’s regular director. They acknowledged that Kirsten should be stronger, but who cared? Fletcher did, of course, but if Terrible were Ophelia, he would need to direct her.  “Or did you assume your little sister would comply with your every dictate, Abominable?”

“We might have agreed. And what if I was calling about something else?”

“I assumed not.  Because Kirsten rang Alan, who rang me. Yet my faith in you never wavered. I trusted you to smooth any ruffled feathers. Just as you always do.”

“Oh.”  Brooke still wanted to talk about the play, for he had never openly praised her before.  But if she asked to talk later, after she’d had some toast and coffee, he might not answer until next spring.  Or if he did, he’d ridicule her.  Sometimes his rants were funny, and usually instructive, but Fletcher cultivated a scathing manner so that if he drunkenly lashed out, people were like “typical” and left him alone.

Upbraiding her was Fletcher’s style of mentoring. Because if he didn’t respect her, he wouldn’t have given her Hamlet.  He wouldn’t have insisted that Brooke be his assistant director starting when she was only twelve-years-old. Then as now, Ma was the house manager, the PR director, and producer for the summer theatre.  Fletcher required infinitely more assistance than Jenny could give him—but why Brooke?  When the general consensus of her even then had been: wild, extravagant, and impudent.  Ma had said that wasn’t true but as it happened, Fletcher appreciated such traits.

Brooke did not. If she could, she’d be restrained and focused, not excessive and impetuous. Most of all, she would be the kind of girl whose father never beat her up.

Tara said that because of Pop, Brooke must always beware of confusing abuse with affection.  So insulting! Did Tara view her as a candidate for a pop psychology TV show?  Like, calling Dr. Phil?

“Not exactly, but you can’t dismiss the documented results of child abuse.”

“Shut up, Tara.”

Only the girls, Ma, and Pop knew. And for now, Pop stayed away.  Brooke would never admit that she missed him, but she did. So let Tara think Fletcher was the worst of it.

Anyway, sporadic tirades aside, Fletcher liked them both. And he loved Ma, who made sure he remained the lifelong director of Woodstock’s summer theatre.  Because Fletcher’s long dead lover, Sir Jeremy, whom Fletcher called Dickie (to this day) had especially loved Ma.

When the couple had arrived at the realty after opening The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, Sir Jeremy was immediately taken by Ma, who reminded him of his cousin Lily. Ma had just started working at the realty, upon finishing high school. She answered the phones and listed places for sale, which she kept in a black binder. But Sir Jeremy had requested her opinion. first on the property and then on the house they were building.

Fletcher was the one who told Brooke that his lover, who died before she was born, had been a baronet, like a character in Jane Austen. And that Dickie had known Andrew Lloyd-Webber all his life. In most of his theatrical extravaganza’s, Baron Lloyd-Weber casually added handful of Dickie’s lines, and then Fletcher’s, to The Phantom of the libretto.

Fletcher in those days had been like a punk-rocker. The big craze was in the 70s. Fletcher belonged to the Trainspotting  era.  Dickie had seen him hanging around and so Fletcher, who was doing “nothing legal” picked him up. Dickie, who loved Fletcher on sight, thought he was brilliant and promoted his ideas for all Lloyd-Webber’s pre-1990s productions. “Nothing but smart ass wisecracks! But then Dickie taught him everything.

Ma had been their one friend in Woodstock. They would invite her to their parties at the octagonal house rising from the creek near Mid-Mountain Way. Then in 1993, they moved there for good—Dickie was fatally ill.

Ma ran errands and arranged appointments. She fixed martinis and listened to them trade lines from Shakespeare and Noel Coward. Both of them, it turned out, hated musicals. When Dickie died, Fletcher drowned his sorrows in gin. During the 21 years since, Fletcher’s one activity was directing Woodstock’s summer play.

But at that moment, he was telling Brooke about Children’s Minds. Fletcher, like Ma, Tara, and billions of others, loved the show about a pediatric psychotherapist who figured out kids’ secret torments and what to do about them.

Brooke said, “I’ve never watched a whole episode.”

“So he said.”

She panicked, hearing this.

“You babysat for his children, did you not?”

“Yes. But Jasper was away, working on the grand finale.”

“But when he was there…?”

Her impulse was to throw down the phone.

Fletcher shouted at her. “Certainly, you know your boyfriend earned four Emmy’s before he was 25.”

“Fletcher! What do you mean—boyfriend?”

“Tut-tut, nothing personal. Few so-called straight actors are so…unpersuadable.”

“You mean unpersuadable by—you?”

“Naughty minx, by any man.”

“I can’t believe you asked him that.”

“Don’t be coy, Abominable. Jasper King is so good-looking he must acquire real skill or his career will amount to audiences drooling over him.”

“Disgusting.”

“Indeed. After saying your Hamlet amazed him, he accepted my offer to coach him next summer. The man has a lot to learn.”

Brooke felt creepy. Something about Fletcher guessing she’d be home with a hangover…But she refused to let Fletcher get to her, and said, “Any other weekday, I’d be at school now.”

“Appalling! You must cease your attendance this minute!”

“Last fall I attended a playwright workshop on 42nd Street, because you recommended me! I applied to Vassar early, using my freshman year test scores. So Presidential Scholarship or not, I’m going.”

“Perish the thought! You’ll then direct Hamlet like everyone else.”

by kathleen maher

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