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

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