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

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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

The Real Reason

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When Brooke dived from the waterfall’s highest ledge, her body became a spirit in mid-air. A lesser yet still irresistible transformation occurred when she bicycled down the mountain, flying over crevasses and bouncing off rocks. After her despair in Jasper’s meadow reached its peak, she sprang up and pedaled furiously away. A few seconds of relief and then she crashed headlong into a car stopped at the light. The driver hadn’t anticipated the blur of her hurdling out of nowhere and the awful sound of her bike breaking as she catapulted into a field.

A person, anxious even in shadow, got out of the car. Brooke leaped to her feet and waved. She cupped her mouth and called, “Is your car okay?”

Back in the SUV, the shadow-person sped away, leaving Brooke’s ruined bicycle in the street. She hauled it into a ditch and walked the remaining mile home. Tara heard her, staggering up the rickety outside stairs, because of course she was crying again.

The door swung open and Tara pulled her into the living room. Unable to suppress an air of triumph, her sister clapped a hand over Brooke’s mouth. “You want the whole world to know?”

Brooke didn’t care and collapsed on the floor. The room had a low ceiling and one rectangular window behind the couch. Sitting on it, holding a pillow, Tara said, “Told you,” and turned up the volume on a little boy screaming at his parents. Brooke, rolling up and hiccupping, watched a creepy TV kid supposedly making a documentary about his overweight parents. The mother and father sat catatonic in lounge chairs while he yelled. “More venom! More menace!”

Just stupid. Brooke jumped up. Her voice raw from crying, she asked, “Did anyone call the house?”

“The house?”

“Guess not.” She paced the room and tugged her hair.

The creepy kid was saying, “Great! We’re golden!” and Tara turned him off.

Brooke’s arms swung. She circled the room in long, loopy strides. And Tara tossed the pillow aside and closed in on herself. She averted her chin.

“Don’t do that.” Brooke knew the gesture, thanks to small-minded people who said, and very well might say again, that Brooked was beautiful, not to mention sexy. Tara was either “pretty” or “looked just like their mother.”  Sometimes they said this to the girls’ faces!  Brooke hated it that Tara took this shit to heart. But why now? When Brooke was a teary mess?

“Stop pacing.”

“What?”

“Stop performing in all your ravishing pain, okay?”

Brooke stopped to stare at the ceiling. “Did anyone come over while I was gone?”

“What?”

“Did anyone ring the doorbell?”

Tara laughed.

Brooke sank to the floor. “You’re right. Why did I think he liked me?” She hiccupped and rocked, about to get up.

But Tara finally pitied her enough to get off the couch and sit beside her. “So I guess the movie star stood you up.”

Hiccupping, tears pouring, Brooke said, “Yep. He…did…He stood me up.”

Tara said, “But it’s one night, one disappointment.”

Brooke stared at her fingers crisscrossing the carpet. “It feels like a lot.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Stay there.” Tara went upstairs to her bedroom and returned with a bottle of Maker’s Mark. “Stole it from Pop.” Their father worked in a bar forty miles away. Tara still visited him the way they both had until Brooke was 10 and he had slammed her head against the wall. She didn’t know if she passed out. Tara said she did and Pop acted scared and sorry.

Swinging her legs in front of her, Brooke arched her neck and took a big swig. She had never drunk whiskey before and shuddered, but it cured her hiccups. She stood up and drank some more. “Okay if I take this to bed with me?”

“Drink it in here. We’ll watch anything you want.”

“I need to lie down.”

“All right. But don’t spill it.”

In her narrow, little bed, Brooke drank, woke, drank, and then—the stench of puke forced her up and out of there. She fell in the hall and crawled down the three steps into the living room where Tara was watching her favorite show Children’s Minds, in which Jasper King played a clairvoyant child pschiatrist.

“You’re shit-faced.”

Brooke tried to stand and fell.

“Dammit,” Tara grabbed her sister’s hair, dragging her into the bathroom. She shoved Brooke into a freezing cold shower and yanked her out again to peel off the smelly T-shirt.

“Take your underpants off.” Brooke tried but Tara had to crouch down and lift her feet. Then Tara stood in shower, adding hot water, and rubbing Brooke all over with a soapy wash cloth. Brooke giggled and gagged and Tara pulled her hair hard. “Shut up!” She shampooed Brooke’s hair, cursing at how long and thick it was.

Later, Brooke woke in Tara’s bed, wearing Tara’s nightgown. She got up and leaned against the warm washing machine full of towels, and then jumped back from her own stinky sheets piled on top. It was still dark. Their mother was still meditating with her group.

In the TV room, Tara was snoring in front of an early episode of Children’s Minds. Brooke turned it off and nudged her. Tara’s eyes opened. “Looks like you’re still staggering.”

“I’m okay. And really sorry. But, Tara, you’ve no idea what you did for me. ’Cause getting drunk like that helped.”

“Did you have sex with him or something?”

“God, no! Making people think he likes them is his job.”

“Not exactly. It could’ve been anyone, Brooke. And next time? You’re not supposed to care about a no-show.”

“Maybe he was worried. Like I’d ruin his reputation.”

Tara laughed. “You couldn’t ruin Jasper King in a million years. He left because he wanted to—the real reason for everything.”

(To read the previous and intervening episodes, go here, here, and here.  Don’t worry, I won’t be listing every link. A few to start and an occasional two or three you might want to read, if you happened to wonder what else occurred.) 

Rue for You

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This is part 3 of James Bond and the Girls of Woodstock, serial fiction I’m writing as I go, aiming for one a week. On my site, under serial fiction, I’m up to episode 70. But serial fiction works better on a blog. So I’m posting a few episodes from different sections here. If you want to read the whole story, go here. At the top of this blog, James Bond and the Girls of Woodstock appears as a page, which offers an overview.

Almost everyone involved with Woodstock’s Art Colony, 100 years old and called “The Gallery,” gathered to meditate in a barn-like building every Sunday.

Jenny Logan had been devoted to the overnight practice since high school. And while neither Brooke nor Tara had any interest in joining their mother, Jenny so clearly regarded the experience as her private thing that Brooke half-suspected if they wanted to attend, their mother just might say, “No.” Although to soften this, she would offer some non sequitur as an explanation. Saying no, especially to her daughters, ran counter to Jenny’s nature. Of course, she must have told them no when they were toddlers. But to hear her tell it, even then, Brooke and Tara usually understood more than she did, so she usually deferred to their inexperienced judgment.

Brooke wouldn’t argue that they both possessed top-notch academic abilities, which amounted to one kind of smart, the kind that isolated them from their classmates. But their mother tended to exaggerate their skills. And they soon learned how much of their supposed excellence sprang entirely from their mother’s fantasies. Nevertheless, the girls naturally, and to be honest, easily, strived to meet their mother’s vision.

Consequently, almost as soon as they were speaking, Jenny depended upon their authority. They gladly took charge, so full of their superior selves they didn’t balk at complicated responsibilities. To them, adult work felt like a privilege. By adolescence both girls believed their independence was right and good.

Sunday night after the last performance of Hamlet, and the night before school started—or rather the night before Brooke and Tara started school, having skipped the opening Wednesday through Friday because of the play—Jenny prepared for her all-night meditation. Brooke and Tara made dinner.

Then Brooke called upstairs to her mother’s dormered bedroom.

“Come on, Ma, before it congeals.”

“Thank you. How nice,” she said, sitting at the small kitchen table. They ate tuna fish sandwiches on the thick homemade bread. As a treat, Brooke had filled a serving bowl with blood-oranges mixed with beets, ready-made from Maria’s, an expensive habit she’d picked up while working for the King’s.

More sulky than usual, Tara said, “To me, a man and a teenage girl watching a movie alone together is a date.”

“Tara,” Brooke said, “nobody’s doing that. And if I ever watched a movie with a man, I’d need to invite you, too.”

“No, you wouldn’t.”

“Who knows more about movies, you or me?”

“You don’t watch movies. You watch the people watching the movie.”

“When did you watch me watching a movie?”

“What are you girls talking about?” Jenny asked. “Brooke do you have a date?”

“Of course not.”

Tara said, “Pop says no dating till we’re 18. What’s that mean?”

“Don’t tell him I said this,” their mother was pushing her finger into left-over bread crust, “but I think he means no sex.”

“Does ‘no sex’ mean no kissing or no fucking?”

“Brooke,” Jenny said, “if your father heard you say that, he’d knock you unconscious. I mean it. He stays away but you need to make a habit of being civil. The way you look—without trying; I’m not saying that—is provocative enough. You cannot afford to talk dirty.”

“And Tara looks nice but talks like the devil.”

“You’re the devil,” Tara said. “Now Ma, suppose Pop found out Brooke was watching movies with a married man.”

“Is this happening?” Jenny asked. “Because Brooke, my God! Don’t people in this town gossip about you enough?”

“That’s the danger? Tons more gossip about me.”

“No,” Jenny said. “But if you’re thinking about going out tonight—it’s my job to stop you. I’ll miss my meditation practice.”

“I forgot about that,” Brooke said. “Guess I better tell this imaginary married man, ‘No movie tonight or Ma will have to miss her meditation thing.'”

Jenny said. “Are you trying to send me into a frenzy?”

“Go meditate,” Tara said. “Sorry for mentioning the unmentionable.”

Jenny said, “Don’t tease me. You know I can’t keep up.” She was halfway upstairs to get her things. “And please clean the kitchen. You’ve no idea how depressing it is, washing dinner dishes the next day.”

When their mother had disappeared into her room, Brooke grabbed Tara’s hair. “What are you trying to do?”

“If you’re watching a movie with Jasper King, you sure as hell better invite me along.”

“I’m not watching a movie with Jasper!”

“Look at it this way, Brooke. I’m on your side. That movie star’s got no business with the babysitter. Especially since his wife and kids have left.”

“Did they?”

“You said they did.”

“My mistake then.” Brooke stepped outside, careful not to slam the door. She ran down the outside stairs and hopped on her bike. When would people stop calling Jasper a movie star? He was a great actor.

(This introduces the two girls and their mother. It happens to be the third installment.  If you want to start at the beginning, go here.)