Monday, May 11, 2009

Chapter 13

It seemed as though an hour had passed since it had all begun. She was sure that it was probably only minutes. Five minutes? That would be typical with this sort of incident. Twenty minutes? Everything was moving so slowly. Opening her eyes, she focused on her hands, splayed out in front of her. Was that blood? Glints blinked back at her. Glass shards. Some were darker than others. Mirror shards? Both? She noticed there was dirt under her right index fingernail. She blinked and refocused on the nail. Yeah, dirt. How had she not noticed that before? And after such a recent manicure appointment.

Brushing her hair back from her face and holding it there with the same tainted finger, she raised her head and turned slowly back and forth to look around. The lights were still on, bright to her eyes. She brought her hand forward to shield her vision from the distracting dancing dots in front of her. There were more glass and mirror shards everywhere around her. What the hell? Scanning the room, her eyes darted around, stopping at a blackish lump on the floor. Her eyes settled on a figure - on him?

He was still there in the room. He was lying on the floor near the shower. She squinted at him. Was he OK? Had he gotten knocked out from the shaking? Was the earthquake an omen? Should she have quit while she was ahead?She started to crawl over to him. Immediately, she felt warm air coming down from above. She looked up. The air blew her hair around in a matted, damp swirl. Hesitating only briefly to control her fly-away strands, she continued forward. She kept thinking about a couple panes of the domed skylight being shattered. Was that the glass on the floor? She looked back behind her and saw that the vanity mirror had been shattered as well. She shuddered as the air goose-bumped her skin and she kept crawling towards him.

When she had almost reached his side, she stopped. He was awfully still. She placed her ear to the floor and, from that angle, watched his chest for breathing. Tentatively, she reached out, grabbed his shoe, and shook it. Nothing. She shook it harder. Still nothing. He must’ve really knocked himself out. She watched his chest again. Nothing that she could see. As she pulled herself up next to him, pain seared through her ankle. She gasped and grabbed her leg, pulling it close to her body. Her ankle was tinged with purple and blue and already swollen. She had to have twisted it when she fell. How had she fallen? Gingerly holding her foot, she shimmied her way up to his head and shook his shoulders. Still no response. She laid her head on his chest. No heartbeat that she could hear.

As she lay there on him, she smelled something burning. What could that be? She looked around the bathroom with her eyes focused, the dancing spots faded by this time. Nothing. Was the estate on fire? She turned her head sharply towards the door. Where could it be? Would she be able to escape? She wouldn’t want those Brats to find her there. She listened again. Strangely, there were no alarm devices going off and he had a ton of them for every conceivable situation be it a simple burglary to World War III. Malfunction? Not likely in this house. Would it have gone off for a quake? Yes, he would have thought of everything, she was sure. So, then why did it smell like burnt hair?

She ran her hands through her own tresses, searching for embers or crispiness. She pulled the longer lengths in front of her face for inspection. Nothing. She turned her attention back to him, tying her hair up in a knot to keep it out of her eyes. She put her head to his chest again. Still nothing. Always nothing with him! Did she know CPR? She pulled herself up slowly, very aware
of her ankle, and positioned herself, as she had seen on ER, to attempt to do CPR. At this new angle, she looked at his face assessing whether or not she wanted to put her lips to his. Could she shake her hygiene issues in an emergency? As she moved in for the first trial breath, the stench of burnt hair became stronger. A mark caught her eye at the left of his temple, above his ear. She turned his head and shrieked, putting her hands straight to her mouth at that instant. The high pitched sound reverberated on all of the hard surfaced walls, escaping only through the shattered, custom-made glass panes of the dome in the ceiling. Smoke wafted from a perfectly round, scorched hole in the side of his head off-gassing the stench of hair and skin.

She kept her mouth covered and peered closer, curiosity overcoming shock. The sharp smell of cauterized flesh caused her to gag and she fell back onto the floor, willing herself not to retch. Once more, searing pain from her twisted ankle shot up her body and made her heart beat faster as adrenaline rushed down to the injury. She willed herself to breathe and calm down.
He wasn’t knocked out, he was dead! She looked around the room for a weapon. Surely, this was a gunshot wound. Who would shoot at him? Well, anyone and everyone. They were lined up behind her and she was in line behind many others for sure. How had anyone done this?

She looked up at the skylight and instantly freaked. Had someone shot him through the skylight? Were they still there? Could they still see her? Were they watching her right now? Had an earthquake really happened? Holding her ankle, she dragged herself as quickly as she could into the open plan shower stall. Fuck, the tile was cold! She waited. For what? An attempt on her life because she had been a witness to his murder? Where was her cell phone? Her bum had gotten cooler. The cold had also made her ankle feel better as well. She slowly crept out again on all fours, looking this way and that, and moved towards The Body. Whoever was around surely had to be gone by now. When she had reached his side again, she opened his jacket and felt him up for a gun, a wire, even a camera. He wouldn’t have agreed to this meeting with nothing up his sleeve, literally. Roughly, she frisked him all over and then riffled through his pockets. He was already stiff. Even more so than when he had been alive, if that was possible. She pulled out some cufflinks and an old business card, which she recognized immediately. Finding nothing more, she straightened him up as best she could.

She needed to get out of there, now. Gingerly standing up, favoring her injured ankle, she took stock of herself. Hair was fucked up, proof provided in what was left of the shattered mirror. The dress was ruined, but the shoes would do for now. What was missing? Clutch. Fuck! Clutch. She looked around the room for the bag. Spotting it in the tub, she picked it out, shook the glass off, and shoved in her souvenirs. Pausing in the center of the room, she focused on their two highball glasses, still on the vanity, surprisingly still intact. She rinsed them out in the sink, running the water for a good while. The less evidence that she had been there, the better. The Brats would have a field day. Shit, were they there already? Surely they would’ve gotten some silent, secret alarm at their “stations”. Listening intently for footsteps, voices, or phones ringing, she paused, holding the glasses up high. Hearing nothing, she smashed both against the floor, highball glass shattering and mingling with the existing mess. She stopped and listened again. Still hearing nothing, she tiptoed, as best she could with a swollen ankle in high heels out of the room and down the hall to his office.

Opening one of the French doors, she crept inside and closed it quietly behind her. Covering her head with a scarf from her clutch, she limped to the opposite wall, deftly pushing open the concealed panel behind velvet drapery. The night sky was queerly lit. The search lights must have come on, scanning the blackness for unwanted “ghetto birds”. She stepped through and limped down the patio path, daphne bushes perfuming her escape and erasing the stench of burnt hair that lingered in her nose. The coldness from the tiles was wearing off and her ankle began to throb painfully. She reached the corner of the house and stopped to peek into the car turn-around. Her car was still there, alone. She looked this way and that, habitually subconsciously aware of the cameras. She stepped forward and then stopped abruptly, remembering to also check for security and the Brats. Where were they? Not like them to not come running to their master’s call. That was weird, but fortunate for her tonight.
Unlocking her car door manually, she silently slipped into the driver’s seat. Keeping the door open, she put the car into neutral and pushed it towards the front gates with her good foot. Obediently, the gates whooshed open and she coasted out onto Mulholland Drive.

Feeling safe at last, she brought her foot in, shut the door, and started the engine. She checked her breathing, hand to her heart. She looked out the windshield – left, right, forward. She checked her rear view. The gates had closed. Still nothing, no one. She listened for sounds other than her car. A bright light tripped her eye up at the top of her windshield. She craned her neck to see, afraid it was a ghetto bird and she’d been spotted. A bright, full, harvest moon hung in the sky, an illuminating witness to this past hour of her life. That damn dentist office magazine had been right – the second in two years.

Chapter 12

Since Jasmine’s and my encounter on the daphne path, a few months had gone by and the project was finally drawing to a close. At that point, we were only waiting for the final building inspection sign -off and the cleaning crew. Faraday was very pleased with the final result, almost giddy. How anyone could be so excited about a bathroom, I didn’t know. But, as Faraday first confided to me, it was his source of inspiration, his place for brainstorms, his thinking spot, or should I say, pot. So, I guessed that he was really glad to have it back. I wondered if his work had really suffered at all because of its absence. He had been gone an awful lot during the construction.

All of the finish work had been completed by Paul. All of his subs had been long gone by then and the estate was nearly empty of work crew. Trevor and Bruce had quit circling us like flies on shit and generally left me alone, except to remind me when the project would be done and when I could leave, permanently.

Back at my office, I was cleaning up and organizing my paperwork for Faraday’s project into bins for reference. Unfortunately, this project wouldn’t be making it into any design magazines or trade papers. I had signed the confidentiality agreement with Faraday that I would never publish my pictures or plans. At our last meeting, I felt like he was already ordering my cement shoes at the last meeting. Just business, he assured me, but the hairs standing up on my neck and spine didn’t hear it that way. I guessed that he had just wanted to press the issue and make sure his words and our agreement had made a permanent indentation in my brain.

This was supposed to have been a project that would make my name in the design community and get me some real “money” clients. Especially after the circus folk I had endured through it all. Jasmine had said that it would be good for me and my business, and I believed her. Through the leaks, I had received a few more clients to help fill the expense coffers. But once this project was over and, unless all of Faraday’s friends and associates used his crapper, how would anyone see the fantastic bathroom design and want to hire me? I could only hope now that Faraday would refer me to his friends and that Jasmine would continue to follow suit more publicly. To give both of them props, Faraday always paid and he never questioned my fees or expenses. Jasmine was always a good referral and really hadn’t let me down (if she indeed was the leak). I myself had put up the high hopes for the exposure. Four steps forward, one and a half back.

I was telling Paul all this after a final meeting with Faraday before he went off to Asia for the millionth time. We were driving up Highway One towards Malibu on a beautiful, sunny Saturday headed for Paradise Cove to spend the day at the beach.

“The jobs will come. Don’t worry.” Paul reassured me. “This whole year has been a good experience for you. When I started doing work for Faraday, the jobs trickled in at first, but
then they gushed in and I had to turn a lot away before I hired a crew.”

“Well I hope you’re right. I love having my own design firm, but for the rough, penniless slogging, misery does love company. The design work is trickling in. If it gets to be much more, I’m going to have to hire an assistant. Until then, I can’t afford to have anyone share the trenches with me. It does get overwhelming,” I said.

“You have me.”

“I know and I love you, but you’re not in the office everyday with me and my other projects,” I said. ”Just having someone to chat with would be great and it would boost my moral to see another face in my office when I come through the front door. Especially one that would do my bidding.”

“I thought that was my job already,” Paul teased me. Then, seriously, he said, “What’s really wrong, babe? Are you unhappy with how things turned out?”

“No, no, I’m not unhappy. I think I’m just exhausted and talking out of my ass. My own way of relaxing. What I really need is this vacation weekend we’re taking and some stiff drinks.”

“And a lot of lovin’, I hope?” added Paul, placing his hand on my thigh and giving it a warm squeeze.

“Oh, yes, I need lots of that!” I laughed, releasing some nervous tension. I snuggled down into the bucket seat and lit a cigarette.

“Oh, God, smoking! And in the car,” Paul said, exasperated. He was really trying to get me to quit. Although I had once gotten him to confess that he secretly did love the smell of whiskey, cigarettes and my perfume all over his shirts. Hee, hee. He’s just looking out for my longevity

“Hey! It’s a convertible and a rental,” I defensively and took a long drag.

We arrived at Paradise Cove, paid our twenty bucks to rent butt space on the beach and spent the rest of the day alternately lounging, drinking, laughing, and napping. At one low population point, we snuck around the outcropping and indulged ourselves in some vertical mambo action. That was exhilarating! Secretly, I wished someone was watching us. I was such a horn dog with that thought. Paul thought he’d really found my ‘On’ button. He came twice with me. God, I loved that man.

Around dusk, after a relaxing soak in the warm ocean, we made our way into the restaurant and ate a leisurely dinner, discussing future career plans and even a bit about our own future together. That was tenuous, but not as uncomfortable as I thought it would be. He started it so I guess I was off the stereotypical hook. After dinner, we went out onto the beach deck with our drinks and settled into the deck chairs with complimentary blankets.

“God, I would love to live here,” I sighed.

“Yeah, it would be the greatest. A real bum’s life that I could get used to,” replied Paul. “You know Faraday has a beach house here, just down the road actually.”

“Really? Would he ever let us stay there?” I asked, visions of sun-drenched mornings and celebrity-studded beaches.

“I don’t know. I never had any reason to ask him before,” said Paul. Never had a reason before, huh? This guy is nuts to still dig me so much. I'll have to remember to get his head examined.

“You know we’ll have to tell him about us soon,” He added. I hadn’t thought about that and had forgotten that Paul and I were still keeping our relationship mum. It had become so routine, every little cover up, every white lie. It would feel weird to finally reveal it to the world. Would that be the jinx?

“Well, now that we aren’t working together anymore, what does it matter?” I asked. “Faraday can’t make me sign a contract to stay away from you.”

“I know. It doesn’t. I just thought of that important detail. You know, that he still doesn’t know,” said Paul.

“You make it sound like Faraday’s your dad.” I laughed. “And we’re not supposed to be together because I’m not worthy.”

“Well…” Paul chuckled. “I’ll ask him about staying at the house when he gets back from his trip.” He leaned over and kissed me under the jaw while cupping my bikinied breast with his warm hand. Electricity surged from my tail bone to my molars.

“Cool,” I said. I wrapped the deck blanket around me and sipped my hot toddy to quench the flame rising from below. I would need some rest for the highly anticipated morning sex of our vacation, my favorite.

The air was getting crisp as summer was again ratcheting down to fall. The moon hung close to the ocean, the waves below like the fox jumping for the grapes. I hoped our view from the bed and breakfast was as good as this was from the bar deck. The moon looked like it was ready to give birth and a thousand spiders would spill from its womb.

Chapter 11

When Paul left me the Sunday evening of our first weekend together, it was only after we had lain in bed figuring out how to proceed with our professional lives together. Or separate? After the weekend, we totally knew how we wanted to spend our personal lives. Together. We agreed that, for right now, we would act as if nothing were going on between us other than professional courtesy. Paul understood how important the Faraday job was for me and I knew that he wanted to keep his working relationship with Faraday tight and uncomplicated. Me – complicated? Ha, ha! I had always suspected I was complicated. I guess now I had the proof. Paul felt that Faraday would be uncomfortable around us if he knew we were in a relationship. Didn’t fit with his rigid estate protocol for the hired “help”. So demeaning and just as pathetic for this day and age. As far as I knew, Faraday was in no relationship except for booty calls
with Jasmine, but even that information was speculative. I certainly wasn’t going to call her to confirm.

The two people we worried about the most were the assistants, Bruce and Trevor. We also had to be careful around the rest of the estate staff because any gossip would surely rocket its way to the assistants’ office; brownie points in the micro-class fiefdom. I also couldn’t tell Jasmine any of this nor anyone affiliated with her. Boy, was this going to be tricky. I’d have to watch everything I said to everyone. Well, not everyone. I had Harshy as my confidante and, now, I also had Brian who had caught us in the “act”. Sort of.

Stiff and fatigued, I managed to make my way into the office the next day. I was a wee bit late for my usual standards and didn’t make it in til almost eleven. I missed Paul’s presence the second I sat in the seat of my car. Phantom limb syndrome. Yeah, I missed that limb. I could still smell him in my clothes so I comforted myself with that and with the thought that I would see him again that night. Paul had invited me to dinner at his house in Studio City. I hoped it wasn’t some skanky bachelor pad with the requisite black leather couch and chrome-and-glass tables. Resist the urge to snoop, Pushkin.

Settling into my desk chair, I figured I’d get all of the “I told you so’s” out of her system, so I called Harshy.

“GGMC,” answered the receptionist.

“J’Neene Harshbartle, please,” I said.

“Oh hey, Lois, its Bernadette,” Bernadette was one of Harshy’s A&R people. “I’m filling in for Marsha ‘cause she’s in the bathroom with girl problems. (Like I needed to know that.) She’s in. I’ll transfer you. TTFN.”

There was that damn TTFN again. I was going to get to the bottom of that mystery that had been plaguing my language skills. I waited through the elevator music of the GGMC hold. You’d think that a major record label company would have a little more flash. I guessed that it was better than listening to hold music that was an actual radio station complete with shock jocks and DJ idiots who were so not funny. I enjoyed the companies with the finer sensibilities, the ones who put NPR on as their hold music. Much more enjoyable and informative, not a waste of one’s precious time.

Harshy finally got on the phone. “What’s up girl? I am so busy. Hold on a sec…” She covered the receiver, but I could hear her yelling at someone. “I’m back.”

“Hey, just calling to say “hi.”

“You never call just to say “hi,” said Harshy suspiciously. “What’s with you? Are you OK?
What’s wrong? Did things go bad already with that contractor guy?”

“Everything’s fine,” I said. “Time for lunch? Houston’s?”

“Whoa! Some’in bigs goin’ down. We’re going upscale so this ain’t no shits and giggles chat,” said Harshy. “It’s that contractor guy, isn’t it? More than just a kiss was it?”

Fuck! I smiled on the phone, “You got me.”

“Shit, woman! I want to hear everythin’. Meet me there in five. Screw this place. They can suffer without me for an hour,” said Harshy. The phone muffled again. I think she was yelling at Bernadette this time.

“Harsh, I can’t drive there in five. This is LA. Give me thirty,” I said, gathering up my stuff and shoving my cell phone and cigarettes into my bag.

“Oooh! I can’t wait. Somethin’s finally goin’ on in your life and it may be worth paying attention to. Lo-is got luck-y. Lo-is got luck-y!” Harshy went on and on before she finally hung up the phone releasing me from my red-faced, but giddy torment.

When I got to the restaurant, Harshy was at the bar (faster service, cuter guys). When she saw me, she was all smiles and giggling and pointing fingers at me, SNL Roxbury style.

“Stop it.” I ordered. “You’re making a spectacle of yourself. If anyone who knew you saw you like this they’d think you’d been slipped a rufie”

“So tell me everything,” tittered Harshy. We ordered drinks and then lunch, and I told her everything that had happened since the “kiss” in the stone yard. For a while, Harshy couldn’t remember who Brian was and kept thinking I was having a ménage a trois. This really excited her until I finally set her straight after the nth time. When I’d finished, Harshy kept smiling and shaking her head and picking at her shrimp cocktail.

“I’m very happy for you, Miss Lois,” said Harshy. “Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person.”

“Thank you.” I blushed, not used to the excitement of new found “like” and with a guy who actually liked me back. “I hope he calls me. We’re supposed to have a real date tonight.”

“Oh shut up, woman,” expounded Harshy. “Of course he’ll call you again. He survived your hat, your cat, and your transient. If they didn’t scare him away, you certainly wont.”

Well, maybe my mother would. And Paul did call. Many times over the following months while we worked together at Faraday’s estate.. And we enjoyed each other very much. It was great. I was actually dating a guy who really liked me. I was walking on the clouds, smelling the flowers, and wearing rose colored glasses when I looked at the LA horizon’s smog line. The
downside of it all was that we had to keep everything so close to the vest and not expose ourselves as lovers to the people we worked with or to the friends we hung out with weekly. I took Paul to the Formosa a couple of times to meet Harshy, Guy, and Drew. Several times, Harshy had to kick me under the table to keep me from blurting out the secret. Guy still mooned over me, more so when he was sloshy drunk. Paul noticed, but dismissed it as Drunken Man Flirting, (a usual guy thing, I guess).

After a while, Guy stopped asking me out, drunk or sober. Maybe he’d gotten the message or perhaps he’d found someone new. He never mentioned anyone. Maybe he was just really busy with work. Maybe insurance fraud crime was really on the upswing. I didn’t go to the Formosa as much as I had before. Harshy made excuses for me all around – my job was keeping me super busy, my apartment building was having major upgrades done, or I was sick. She was so good about keeping secrets and telling fibs. A seasoned pro because of her job, I supposed. I was grateful for it. I felt sad, though. I felt like I was moving on, away from my life at the Formosa. I’d forgotten how much personal time relationships consumed . Most of my free time was spent with Paul, my secret lover. I wasn’t complaining. I was just recognizing, finally, that I was missing my time at the Formosa and the ease of a Friday night after work with friends. Would they welcome me back if things bombed with Paul? They didn’t seem to miss me. Maybe they had found someone new? I’d have to ask Harshy if she was cheating on me with the boys.

One day, after getting the latest gossip from Harshy about the happy hour gang, I asked her why she still went there when she knew I wouldn’t be able to make it.

“Well, I actually like the dweebs,” she confessed. “It’s so hard to find intelligent men who can talk you under the table about current events and debate politics so heatedly. It’s such
sport and I love it. After dealing with the bozos I work with, it’s like getting high. Those guys can handle it, too, and I, in turn, am helping them handle their liquor better. Especially poor Drew. He’s hanging in there though, got to give him props.”

“Uh-huh.” There had to be more. I knew Harshy as well as she knew me.

“Oh, and they are complete gentlemen. They always pay for my drinks.” Harshy snickered and then we fell into laughter together at our inside joke. Never pay for drinks if there’s a man around. Their money’s better than yours.

“I worry that you miss me and that I spend too much time with Paul.” I laid my guilt out onto the table. Harshy and I had been together so long that I felt as though I was cheating on her.

“Lo, you deserve your happiness, This is the honeymoon stage of the relationship. I wouldn’t step in between you and that unless I had a death wish,” Harshy soothed my fears. “It’s good to see you so happy. I miss our girl time together, but I’ll get you back someday. When you’re old, and married with a paunch.”

I promised to make more time for her especially when the Faraday job was over. That would turn out to be many months. Faraday had made some minor changes to the original plan and finishes that ended up delaying the project. It was really all of his newly required electronics that caused the most schedule shifts. Paul was constantly meeting with electricians, technicians, alarm specialists, electronics technicians, and other more specialized specialists specializing in who knew what? Sometimes, Paul and I and all of the specialists would have a meeting with Faraday to clarify details and resolve minutiae. I myself was a detail freak, but this went beyond the inane sometimes. Over late night dinners or early morning coffees I’d ask Paul what it all meant and what was finally resolved, but he told me he only focused on exactly what they needed him to build or his head would explode from the jargon alone.

So Paul built Faraday’s and the specialists’ specifications into the bathroom, not really knowing what he was creating and feeling like he were an employee at the KFC special seasoning factory and adding his spice to the packet that came to him on the assembly line. The results of the meetings went into the floor, the walls, the ceiling, and the skylight. Some days, I would stand in the half-finished bathroom and look at all of the mumbo-jumbo of wires, cables, connectors, and filaments. None of it made sense to me, but why would it? I wasn’t a rocket scientist. I remembered a time when bathrooms were just for crapping.

One evening I went to the job site for my weekly inspection so that I could make my weekly progress report to Faraday and was surprised to find him in the bathroom. I hadn’t seen in him at the estate except for the construction meetings. I honestly thought he was somewhere in Asia at the moment. I knocked on the door frame. “Excuse me, Mr. Faraday?”

You’d have thought I just goosed him way up his ass from the way he gasped, jumped, and spun around on his heels to face me. “What are you doing here?” he barked at me.

I clutched my notebook to my chest, defending myself against further onslaught. “I come here every week to do my inspections for your weekly report.”

“Oh, yes, yes, I see, of course,” replied Faraday, nodding his head and rubbing his hands together. “Do you always come in the evenings?”

I unclutched my notebook and took a few steps into the room. I looked Faraday over as closely as I could without seeming to be staring. “No, an appointment I had ran late, so I’m here late.”

Although I had signed a privacy clause, it had leaked out that I was doing a project for Faraday and now clients were trickling out to me from the Los Angeles underground culture (at
least to me) of non-celebrity wealth; the real power in the city. My only link to that circle before had been Jasmine and she projected to be only the tip of the iceberg. Where had all those people been a year ago when I needed them?

I’m suspected the leak was Jasmine. Or it could’ve been Harshy. She was an unintentional gossip with all the right connections. Pushkin, unintentional? Really? Well, that was what I would tell Faraday if he ever suspected me of anything. Wouldn’t want to be blacklisted in that town. Might have to go home to my mother. I involuntarily shuddered.

Faraday hadn’t noticed my inner diatribing. He seemed to be trying to control the noticeable uncharacteristic fidgeting he was doing. Was that sweat on his brow? He was wearing a black track suit and, I noticed, the newest runners from K- Swiss, also black. Hideous shoe shape. Maybe he’d been running and his adrenaline was still pumping? There were veins bulging from his neck and arms. God, did he even have a bulging vein running straight down from the middle of his forehead to his nose?

“Ms. Pushkin?” When Faraday addressed me, I looked straight down at his shoes.

“I was just noticing your shoes. New, aren’t they?”

“Yes, the newest. Just breaking them in before I head back to China to run the span of the Great Wall,” said Faraday. He said it like running the Great Wall in China was like circling the track at the Y.

“Great, yeah, cool,” I replied. I stood looking around the room, waiting for more. “Should I come back or will you be done soon?”

Faraday shuffled around the bathroom, looking this way and that. “Yes, I only stopped by for a minute. I flew in from Tai Pei early and thought I would check out the work while I had
some time. Please continue with your work, and I look forward to seeing the report tomorrow.”

“Sure,” I said, “As usual then?”

“That would be fine.” Faraday hurriedly looked around one last time and then retreated down the hall to his office.

As odd behavior was becoming the norm or, more exactly, revealing itself as the norm in this circus I called a design project, I immediately moved on from Faraday’s surprise visit and resumed my inspection. I jotted down notes, took progress pictures, and “blue taped” areas of issue for Paul and his sub-contractors to attend to the following week. Paul and I were working seamlessly as a team on the project and no one at the estate was the wiser about the other project that we were working on just as seamlessly.

I was in love with Paul. He was in love with me. It was that simple. I had to pinch myself almost daily to believe that I was with such an awesome and hot guy who, for some crazy reason, really liked me and thought I was hot, too. I swear the first two weeks of our being together in the biblical sense, I couldn’t walk straight. The honeymoon was still not over yet. I feared the day it would be, and I would suddenly see a beer belly in the place of six-pack abs.

Being together was easy, fluid, and languid. Where I stopped, he began, and back again; an infinity loop. Site meetings were difficult at times, because we were always wanting to touch each another, say something indecent, hold each other’s eyes for a second more than we needed. Phone calls were a little easier, although Paul had to watch it on his end, and he’d already hung up on me several times when I went too far and he couldn’t hold a straight face. I’d imagine him yelling “Fuck!” into the air to break the spell and then telling the guys that it was a supplier or another sub. He’d tell me things like this when we were finally together at day’s end. He
explained that he had to yell immediately to calm himself down quickly enough so that no one, especially Bruce and Trevor who would consistently appear out of nowhere, would think he was talking to a girlfriend.

One day Paul and I were in the side yard off of Faraday’s office discussing plans for a date that night when we heard a car pull around the drive. I peeked around the corner of the house. It was Jasmine. She saw me and called out. I popped back around the side and shoved Paul through the panel door into Faraday’s office. Smoothing my hair and skirt, I stepped out from around the house only to almost step on Jasmine’s Manolo Blahniks.

“Dahlin, what are you doing back here?” purred Jasmine, holding her hat to her head as the winds were trying to snatch it away. She was looking around and behind me.

I smiled, “Don’t you just love the daphne back here? When Bruce or Trevor get on my last nerve, I come around over here and the smell the flowers. Free aromatherapy.”

“That’s lovely, Lo. Project getting along well?” Jasmine inquired, tilting her head and really waiting for an answer.

“Oh, yes, it’s going great. We’re almost done, finally,” I said. “Thank you so much for recommending me, Jas. This has been one of the most satisfying jobs I’ve done in a long time.” More than she knew.

“Can’t wait to see it,” Jasmine motioned to me. We stepped around to the front door and Jasmine rang the bell. “Kips returning today. Called me for drinks and dish time. I’ll swing by the bathroom and take a peek.”

“That would be great,” The door opened and the butler welcomed Jasmine in. “I have to head back to the office. I’ll call you for lunch and we’ll do our own dishing later, ‘kay?”

“Very good, dahlin’. TTFN!” chimed Jasmine in her “just for the help” voice. Damn that TTFN. I called my voice mail again to remind myself to ask Harshy about the anacronym.

Once again I found myself in the familiar little outdoor room of the entry. Placing my phone back in my bag, I breathed in the daphne and reflected for a moment on Paul and I’s last romantic encounter. Time for me to go home. As I stepped off the patio, I heard a soft whirring sound. Looking up and around the domed ceiling, I spotted the camera. I gave the brats the finger as I smiled wide.

Chapter 10

My door buzzed. Then it buzzed again. I looked at the clock. 10 PM. After my crazy lunch with Harshy and the inevitable lingerie shopping, I had come home and gotten my nap. I had overslept considerably. It was dark outside. The door buzzed once more. I realized then it wasn’t the lobby buzzer. It was my actual condo door bell. What the hell?

If that’s Brian wanting to stay here because it’s raining, well… I pulled the top sheet around me Roman style and staggered to the door. I didn’t bother with my new Nick and Nora lounging pajamas. Those could wait til morning for putzing around the kitchen. Wait, Brian wouldn’t use the front door. Leaning with my back up against it, I asked through the door, “Who is it?”


I opened one eye. It throbbed. Once again, too many cocktails with Harshy. Damn
that bitch! “Who?”

A sigh. “Paul.”

I looked through the peephole. Yep, Paul. I opened the door a bit and held it against me. “What do you want? It’s late.”

“You left me at the stone yard,” he explained.

“Am I your babysitter?” I yawned. Hastily I covered my mouth. I am somewhat humane and wouldn’t want to kill anyone with my morning(?) breath.

He lost patience and stepped forward. I watched his shoes. He stopped. Looking at me, he said, “I want to be with you.”

“We can meet tomorrow at the estate,” I yawned again. “I told you that at the yard.”

I rubbed my eyes and pulled the sheet tighter around me. At that moment, I noticed Kashmew at the door. He bolted.

“No! You stupid cat. Shit!” I yelled as Kashmew went leaping down the hall.

Paul took off after him and ran four strides before he tripped and fell on his face. Groaning, he rolled over onto his back, clutching his ankle. I ran out into the hall over to Paul, the sheet still draped around me, and crouched over him.

“Oh my god! Are you OK? Oh, god, did you hurt yourself?” I asked, checking his ankle out, looking at his head for concussion and making sure his glasses weren’t broken.

Paul lifted his head and kissed me full on the mouth. Surprising myself, I automatically kissed him back. Shaking him off, I pulled away, checking to make sure the sheet was covering all of the good parts. “Damn you. This was all a ruse cooked up by you and my stupid cat to get
me to kiss you again!” I yelled. I tripped on the bed sheet trying to get up and fell back on top of Paul. “Shit.”

At this point, Kashmew had sauntered back down the hall, pissed that no one was chasing him anymore. I glared at those shiny gold orbs with threats of punishment later. Kashmew jumped over the threshold back into the condo. If he had possessed hands, I’m sure he would’ve slammed the door. Paul and I both sat up. I held the sheet tightly around me, shielding my eyes against the glare of the hall. The lights were so bright and fluorescent, I must’ve looked like death warmed over. Note to self: change fluorescents to dimmable cans for ambience. Paul took my free hand, helped me to my feet and walked me to my front doors. I looked at him over my shoulder, still unsure as to why he was at my door so late.

“I want to be with you, Lois,” he said, again.

I checked his eyes for concussion. Why did he keep saying that? Maybe he was really one of Faraday’s secret technological advances – CarpenterBot – Hot and a Carpenter. One in every home. Housewife’s Delight. Better than Mommies Little Helper.

I sighed, “Come in already. At least have something to drink, and we’ll check for rug burns.”
Kashmew sprang away from the door just before I could slam it on his sassy ass. He’d better not try that again. Paul sat at the island and I poured him and myself some whiskey and soda with ice.

“Little strong isn’t this? Strange drink for an LA gal.” He lifted his glass. “What about your ladies usual ‘Cosmo’ ?”

“Go stuff yourself.” I rebuked. Like I had time to make him a mixed drink. Fuck Cosmos. And, no, I don’t smoke Capris.

Paul smiled. He seemed to be savoring the burn of the whiskey. I picked up my drink and sipped it slowly, watching him stare at his ice. Why was he really here? Where was he going with this ‘I want you’ business? Or was he a serial killer who wanted me to put the lotion in the basket? How did he get into my building any way? Lois, your tenants, duh. They never listen to me. They’d let John Wayne Gacy in if he said ‘please’.

I came back to the situation. Paul seemed troubled.What did he want to say? He turned to me, started to say something and then stopped. He smiled at me and shook his head.

“What?” I murmured, actually still sleepy after all the commotion. I hoped my bed was still warm.

Paul stood up and came over to me. He took my glass and put it on the counter. He pulled the sheet down around my shoulders and pulled me toward him. His eyes were so bright and warm with little crinkly crow’s feet at the corners. His hair had gone too long without a cut, the salt-and-pepper strands were curling under his ears. Paul kissed me softly, savoring my lips and the booze. Now I was sweet and icy fresh. Gently, he slid his tongue into my mouth, pulling my head back by my hair and cupping my jaw with his other hand. A slow passionate kiss, the kind that I hadn’t had in forever. I was so thirsty for him I felt like a dry vessel after sitting in the hot desert sun for eons. An underground spring was suddenly starting to flow. I grabbed and held onto his hips so that I wouldn’t fall over from the strength of his need, his wanting me. His warmth engulfed me like a Santa Ana wind: convection heat. Paul’s knee moved forward into the space between my legs, me still covered with the sheet, closing in on my body. I immediately
sensed this man believed in foreplay and took his performance seriously. We kissed for a long time, kisses that were like eating a really good meal; sating us fully.

I pulled away for a moment to correct my head and realize where I really was. I opened my eyes to find Paul searching mine. I smiled and he returned it. I slid out of my chair and put my arms around his neck. He picked me up and began eyeing my possible bedroom. Following the cat’s lead, we went down the hall into my bedroom. The small lamp on my Palecek nightstand shone dimly. Paul carried me to my king-sized custom-made platform bed and laid me down on the duvet. I was still swaddled in my bed sheet. He stood by the side of my bed and took off his tattered coat and holey white t-shirt. All the years of construction had made him wiry and developed; his nipples stood out in excitement. He leaned down as I leaned up and brushed my lips over one standing soldier. He groaned with pleasure.

(the following lovemaking scene has been taken out of this post so that those who purchase the novel when it is published in hardback or e-book can enjoy the passage for which they paid. its really good.)

A short and incredibly fantastic time later, I lay on top of Paul with the first orgasm that I hadn’t brought on my self in this bed alone.

“You can’t ever leave,” I whispered into his ear. Last time I blurted that out, the guy did leave. Forever. Oops.

“I’ll try not to,” he replied, holding me close and stroking my ass.

In the morning, I awoke on my side of the bed with the duvet snug around me. I rolled over and Paul wasn’t there. Oh, lovely. Bastard! I sat up in the bed, ready to throw my pillow at the fully loaded dresser, begging to crash everything off of it. As I cocked my arm, Paul appeared in the doorway holding coffee and toast for two.

“How’d you do that?” I asked, quickly pulling the pillow down, pretending I was doing some sort of new exercise maneuver.

“Do what?”

“Get breakfast. Why didn’t I hear you messing around? How’d you know where everything was?”

“I’m a contractor. I know where all you women put things in your kitchens.”

“Seriously. I’m atypical.”

Because I didn’t cook much, I had a lot of junk drawers interspersed with the usual kitchen drawers. An entire magazine collection lived inside my china cabinet where my dishes should’ve been. Mostly I just shoved my groceries into the fridge, even canned goods or bags of pasta. Although I do keep my butter out on the counter which grossed Harshy out.

“That is not a lie. You are a little weird,” confirmed Paul.

“So how’d you navigate the obstacle course?” I asked, trying to let his freaky girl
comment slide.

“That guy you were with the other night was in the kitchen,” Paul replied.


“Yeah,” he said, ”Is that a normal thing? Like Kramer and Jerry?”

“No, no, no,” I stammered. “Did he say how he got in? How long has he been here? What’s he doing here?”

Paul shrugged his shoulders and climbed back into bed with me. I propped up the pillows and cupped the coffee mug in my hands.

“Toast?” he offered.

“Thanks,” I said as I took it, eyeing the door warily. “Is he still here?”

“No, he took off – didn’t want to disturb you further. He said ‘thanks’.”

“Don’t you think that’s weird?” I interrogated Paul. Surely, he must have been somewhat unnerved by the sight of Brian in my condo, making himself at home.

“Hey, I think you’re weird, but I still want to be with you.” he replied. “You’re an enigma wrapped in a mystery… however that line goes.”

“Thanks a lot!” Wait ‘til he meets my mother. If this relationship lasts that long. Don’t jinx this with thoughts of your mother, Pushkin.

Paul smiled and flipped on the TV. We watched cartoons and the news, flipping back and for the for the rest of the morning. In fact, we spent the whole morning eating the contents of my fridge in my bed and doctoring our coffee with kahlua til we were getting silly. We then napped away most of the afternoon until dusk. When I awoke in the twilight, Paul was still in my bed, snoring softly and fighting rabbits in his sleep. I kissed him lightly on the mouth and he wrapped his arms around me and kissed me back. Act One, repeat.

Chapter 9

The next morning it was pouring. I’d never seen Los Angeles like this before. As I sat up in bed, I flicked the radio on. “The weather in five minutes.” Dragging my limp body from the bedclothes, I swayed into the bathroom. By the time I had brushed my teeth, the weather report was on. Pouring today. Pouring tomorrow. Apparently, it was weather from the rust bucket Northwest. Fie on them and a pox. As hung over as I was, I still had to go to work. I was supposed to go to the granite and marble yards that day for another client and I’d been putting it off until now which made it late. “Yards” meant “outdoors”. Did I still own an umbrella? I hoped I’d find the perfect granite quickly. I dressed weather appropriate: all-black Lucy yoga pants, a light weight, knit, V-neck sweater with high-calf, black boots and my black “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” slick, reefer coat. Searching through my closet, I found an old Gorton’s fisherman’s vinyl rain hat - in black. Left over from my aunt’s things, I guess. I didn’t dare look
at myself before I left the house.

For an hour I sat in traffic heading towards Burbank. I passed the Krispy Kreme donut emporium, daydreamed for coffee relief, but denied myself as I wanted to get all my errands done as quickly and dryly as possible. Although… I could stay dry in the donut shop ‘til the rained passed. That was seductive, but I resisted. I would need a nap this afternoon for sure. One perk of self-employment was flexibility. I had called myself in sick a few times. The world hadn’t collapsed. I was more insulted when people hadn’t noticed that I hadn’t been at the office. Not even reliable Doorman Joe mentioned my absences half the time. I guess he saw me running in and out so much that he figured I was with a client. Today would have been one of those days if I could've helped it. I just wanted to hide under my duvet and cat nap til dinnertime.

As I passed the used car lots, I thought of Guy. Oh, crap. I forgot to call him back. Flipping open my phone and scrolling through the received calls, I found his number. While it was ringing, I begged, Please don’t be there, please don’t be there. It will be less painful.

His voice mail picked up. “Hey, Guy, it’s Lois Pushkin. I checked my date book and I’m actually going to a design awards banquet that night, so I’m afraid we’ll have to do it another time.” Lie, lie, lie. “I’ll see you ‘round at the Formosa. Why don’t you call Harshy and set up ‘after work’ drinks? Thanks. I’ll talk to you soon.”

Harshy was going to kill me. She thought Guy was the biggest dorkus in town. Well, Harshy had said that she would be there for me, and I did need some mental support to juggle all of those emotional elephants.

At the marble yard, the owner, Reno, greeted me at the door, took my umbrella and fisherman’s hat (he looked amused by the hat) and offered me hot, black coffee.

“Good morning, Ms. Pushkin. Helluva day to be out. What can I help you with?”

“I need to review some slabs,” I said.

Reno looked at me good and hard, “But it’s raining!”

“I know, but I’ve put this client off long enough, and we’re just going to have to bite the bullet and do it, OK?” I pleaded. Working on Faraday’s project had cut into my other clients’ design time. I couldn’t let them fall through the cracks; they were still my bread and butter, no matter how small.

Reno took my coffee and gave me back my umbrella and hat and said, smiling, “You go out and have a look. Stick this duct tape on the slabs you like and I’ll have Roman chip you off samples.”

“You’re not coming out with me?”

“No,” Reno replied, laughing. “Not in this weather. I get all my work done in the sunshine. If you need help, Roman or Matt are in the yard loading in new slabs. Just shout out to them if you need slabs moved.”

“Thanks a mil, Reno,” I snorted as I stepped into the yard. I headed over to the colors I already knew and began making my way down the isle. Black Absolute, Uba Tuba, Galaxy, Russian Blue, Jerusalem stone and, oh, a new color. I tried to make out the label, but couldn’t.
Looking around, I spotted a man over in the next aisle struggling with a pallet. Making my way over to him, I tapped him on the shoulder.

“Excuse me. Could you help me with this label? I can’t read the writing.”

He turned around. It was Paul.


“What?” he asked, holding his hand to his ear. The yard was next to the highway which made normal conversation practically impossible. Thank God for me.

“Nothing. I sneezed,” I said, making my voice louder.

He gave a look that said bullshit , “What are you doing here?” The traffic noise with the rain was making it even harder to hear. He stepped closer to me, looking down his nose into my eyes. Rain was getting in the way of my vision. I could feel the rainwater channeling off of my fisherman’s hat down the back of my coat. I leveled my eyes at his waist. He smelled good. Gay men usually did. And married men did, too, because of their wives.

“What? Me? What am I doing here? I thought you were a yard employee. I didn’t know it was you. I’m looking for granite for another client,” I answered. I turned my back to him and went to look for the yard employee. I couldn’t handle this today. Not after last night. Right back into the frying pan.

“Wait a minute.”

I felt his hand on my shoulder. Must he always touch me? Do I project accessibility? Thank God today I was wearing grubbies and looked like shit. I definitely couldn’t handle this touchy-feely today. I whirled around to face him, very agitated, “What?”

“Are you OK about yesterday? I didn’t tell you that story to hurt your feelings. It just all came out wrong,” he asked, concern in his baby blues. Stupid married or gay man, quit that!
I studied his face for sincerity. God, I had really worried him. I hadn’t meant to. It was just a job and we had to work together because of Faraday. Why should I care what Paul said or thought?

“I’m sorry. I was feeling like an idiot after you told me everything and dealing with my subsequent deflated ego in the process.”

Paul smiled. “I’m sorry about all that. I’ve never been very articulate around good looking women who scream in foyers at pissy, little, gay men.”

And how red am I just now? I just looked at my shoes. Yep, right where I left them. And covered in wet muck. Did he just say I was good looking? A long pause. Paul stepped toward me and boldly, never mind inappropriately, lifted my chin up with his fingers, forcing me to focus my eyes on him. Why am I letting this happen?

Are we OK now? I mean, we do have to work together and all. I can’t stand passive-aggressive tension.”

I sighed, appropriateness going to hell. I, too, hated passive-aggressive crap. I had years of therapy under my belt all because of the Queen of Hot and Cold: my mother. Paul definitely wasn’t my mother. And, he was easy on the eyes, even if he was in a committed relationship with a wife or gay billionaire. “Yes, we’re fine. I’m sorry. I’ll be better tomorrow when we’re back at the estate.” My eye caught the figure of a yard employee going past our aisle. I excused myself and started in his direction.

“Wait!” Paul called out again.

I waved my hand and kept walking toward the employee. Whatever more Paul wanted would have to wait. I wanted my sample and I wanted to get out of the rain as soon as possible. I was getting cold. Suddenly Paul was at my side, trying to grab my wrist. Startled, I turned and stepped back, flailing out of balance. He stepped forward, caught my back with his arm and pulled me into a shelter space between stacks of pallets. We stood there, breathing at each other. Well, actually I was breathing into his chest. God, did he smell good. I breathed him in again. I could see chest hair curling out of his white t-shirt. That instantly drove me nuts. I tried to keep my breathing even. It was an effort. I looked up to see him looking down at me, the water running off his nose and lips onto mine. I reached up and kissed his top lip. He was surprised and pulled back, watching me. I stood and waited. What the fuck had I done?

“I guess we’re on the same wavelength? I couldn’t let you leave…” he couldn’t finish his thought. Paul just kept staring and breathing, his breath even more jagged than mine.

“The fisherman’s hat really got you hot?” I asked. What was he saying?

“Hmmm? Oh, that? No. You’re so hot. You just don’t care what people think of you. You’re always purely in the present; emotionally raw, vulnerable, and selfishly honest. There’s, like, always a meteor shower going on around you and one has to watch their flight path if they want to get to your planet,” Paul explained. “Ever since the foyer incident, I can’t stop thinking about you. And when you’re around the estate, I spend my time trying to think about how I can make you stay longer. You’re messing up my construction schedules. My other clients are starting to complain.”

“Hmmm, OK,” I said as I kissed his bottom lip this time. A meteor shower? Now that was a line I had never heard before. I liked it. Made me sound dangerous and cool. Don’t know about the vulnerability part. Didn’t want to have that as part of my psyche after all the years of shrinks.

“Hey, I don’t even know you yet,” he protested.

I pulled away and held him at arm’s length or at least as much as I could in the small space we were squeezed into. Paul stared at me, saying nothing. I made to leave again. Before I could take a step out, his lips were on mine, sweet, cool, and hard. His tongue flicked at my teeth and danced with my tongue. He went in deep and ate me up. I was drowning in this rain of passion, but didn’t want to be saved. He pulled away to look at me. I took his lower lip with my teeth and held it there. His eyes met mine and I held his securely. Paul pulled me very close again, almost too close, and I got another heady breath of his scent. God, he smelled good and nostalgic and all that my memory ever retained and wanted me to have for happiness. I continued to drown. He was warm and very hard in all the key areas. I had let go of his lip. He ran his tongue across it, made sure it was still there.

“I want you,” was all he said.

Shit, I wanted him too, but not in this rain. I heard Reno calling my name. I guessed that I’d been out there longer than he thought anyone should. Poor Reno, I’ll catch shit for this if he sees us. I wrenched myself away from Paul and maneuvered my high-heeled boots quickly, but deftly down the aisles in the direction of Reno’s voice. Please, PTB, don’t let me slip and fall.

“Ah, my lady, there you are. I thought you’d drowned or gotten trapped under a heavy object,” scolded Reno.

He didn’t know how close to the truth he was. “No, no, but I did find the granite I wanted. It didn’t have a legible label.” I pointed in the direction of the slabs I was at. “It’s near the Black Absolute.”

“Ah, yes. That is new. Good eye. I will have a sample for you in a minute,” said Reno. He went off to yell at his new yardman for abandoning clients in the rainy, wet yard. If anyone had seen Paul and me, they would’ve wondered who actually needed any help.

I waited in the shop, feeling pretty sure Paul wouldn’t come in anytime soon. I’m sure he would wait for his ‘lust’ to cool down. Cold rain is good for that purpose. A bit later, Reno came in with my slab sample and I headed back to my office to drop it off. Once there, I would also schedule an appointment with my client before heading home to my warm bed.

Back at my office, Harshy had already invaded. So much for my nap. She sat in my chair drinking coffee, risking catastrophe upon my desk. She waved a “hello” in my general direction as she was also on my phone, “No, no, no! I want it the way I told you and that’s it!” she yelled. “I haven’t worked this hard on this blitz for you to fuck it up!” She paused, listening. “Oh yeah? Well, I can walk, bucko!” she shouted and she slammed the phone down.

“How are you sweetie?” she asked pleasantly. I looked at her and then at the phone. “Oh that,” she said, “That’s my job – pppfff! Where have you been? I call, I leave messages, E-mails…”

“I talked to you two days ago. Get a life.”

“Oops.” She giggled. “I think I’ve been up for two days. I need to crash. I knew if I waited here long enough you’d come around and we could catch up about the progress of the guy and your new client.”

I looked at her and she did look like shit, “I ran into him at the marble yard today.”

“Your client?” asked Harshy, twirling her hair while twirling in my chair. It was making me dizzy.

I frowned at her. “No. The guy! We kissed.”

“What? Whoa, now wait, sister. What the hell? The guy kissed you? Why, you’re practically a virgin again.” Harshy waggled her eyebrows at me lewdly and spun around once more in my chair finally stopping to assume her best Madonna pose (the singer, not the mother of Jesus).

“Oh, fuck off, Harshy!” I shot her the finger. Even if she was right. I busied myself with cleaning out my bags and making messy piles of the junk on my desk. I could feel those large
brown eyes on me. I couldn’t see myself, but my face was getting warmer. Surrendering, I straightened up and looked her dead on, exposed.

“Oh, you must really like this guy to be talking to me like that,” beamed Harshy. Ignoring my hue or just treating herself to its rare occurance, she danced around the desk and stood in front of me. “Wow, girl, you are red. You really dig ‘em, doncha? Makes your toes curl? Did you kiss him back?”

I continued blushing so hard a passerby would’ve called the fire department by now. I fanned papers in front of my face. Was this what menopause was like? What’s that new thingy – perimenopause? Am I old enough for that? “Maybe. Let’s drop it. It’s nothing. It will be nothing after a few dates. I don’t have a chance in hell. I’m high maintenance and that’s so not sexy for guys like him,” I said. “Remember, he already gave me the freaky girl look the other day at the estate. It’s hopeless. After a few dates, I remind them either of their neurotic mothers or their favorite sister. Cool to hang out with, but too girl- next- door to have sex with much less thinking about a long term relationship. I’m not relationship material and I’m cool with the cat lady future.”

“Well, he must have an Electra complex, because he seems hot for you if he’s going to go after you in the rain in some dirty rock yard,” countered Harshy. “Well, if it doesn’t work out, at least you have Brian on the side.”

“Gross! Harshy, you bitch. I’m old enough to be his mother,” I yelled at her. That was a disconcerting idea. I felt dirty. Brian was a kid. I was no Stella wanting her groove back. Harshy was looking at me as though maybe I should want it back.

“You are not,” laughed Harshy. “You’re just afraid you might have two guys who have the hots for you. Maybe this new one will put up with your Vin Diesel obsession as well?”

I stared at her as if she had two heads and were singing Celine Dione covers.

“All right, let’s forget about this hot topic for now and have lunch. Drive me home afterward? I’m needing to go to bed,” begged Harshy, schlepping her bag up and opening the office door.

“Fine. You’re buying lunch, though,” I demanded. “By the way, where is your car?”
“I left it at a bar, but I can’t remember which one,” Harshy laughed. “I actually called that Guy guy to help me track it down. Hone his investigative skills.”

We drove to PF Chang’s at the Beverly Center. This was one of Harshy’s favorite restaurants. She swore up and down that this was where all the young, new celebrities tried out their disguises before deciding which ones would work while they shopped on Rodeo Drive or ate at Prizzi’s with their agents. I thought it was more like a geeky role playing game she played soley with herself. I swear Harshy missed her calling as a member of the paparazzi. Harshy revealed that Britney Spears was rumoured to be there today, but I think she was really trying to trick me into going to the mall. Harshy had to deal with that little twit enough when Britney was first starting her career. I doubted she’d want to spy on her now.

I could see the gears working in her brain and heard the way she was talking to me. She thought I should get some ‘sex’ clothes, especially lingerie. Harshy was definitely itching for the mall.

“Remember you friend that lived down the alley from George Eads?” asked Harshy.

“The actor from the gross crime scene show?”

“Yeah, that was Angel,” I confirmed. “She had the two dogs.”

“Now if that girl had just walked her dogs down that alley in some hot clothes, I think she would’ve gotten George to do more than just scoop poop,” said Harshy.

I doubted that because I personally thought George was gay, but I did think Angel should’ve followed up on this guy. She was walking her dogs down the alley one evening after work as usual and spotted George coming out of the back of his house. She recognized him from the show, so she waved ‘hello’. Right when she did, one of her dogs took a crap smack in the middle of his driveway. George was getting ready to go somewhere and was packing up his SUV at that very moment. Angel was so embarrassed that she would’ve scooped up that crap with her bare hands and shoved it in her pockets. She told George she was sooo sorry and that she lived only a few houses a way and would come right back with a bag. Turned out, George was a consummate gentleman. He told her not to worry about it, that he had two Labs of his own and he would pick it up with one of his bags he had in his truck. Angel had been so embarrassed. George scooped up the poop into a Gelson’s plastic bag, and tossed it in his trash. He smiled and told her not to worry about it, it was nice to meet her, blah, blah, blah. She was too stunned to remember all he said. Then George got in his SUV and drove off. I think Angel would’ve stood in his driveway all night if a car hadn’t come cruisin’ through the alley and almost killed her. Angel never went back that route with her dogs. Man, I would’ve been there every night wearing clothes to kill and my doggies in diapers if I thought I had a chance.

“I’m not buying a ‘sex’ wardrobe, Harshy,” I declared. “He kissed me when I was wearing the Gorton’s fisherman hat and if he can see me in that relic and still like me, then what I own is going to do just fine.”

Finally, the hostess took us to our table and seated us in the center of the room amongst the happy crowd. All along the wall were empty booths. I seethed as I hated sitting in the middle of restaurants in little wood chairs. Harshy jerked me back into reality.

“What hat?” She hissed from behind her menu.

“An old hat from my aunt’s things. It was the only rain protection I could find this morning. Let’s order.”

“You were wearing duds of your crazy aunts in the rain out in the boonies of LA and he still kissed you?” Harshy was incredulous. “This guy is as cuckoo as you are.”

“The boots were hot,” I slipped in.

“Thank God for that, girl,” Harshy sighed. “I can still call you my friend.”

Suddenly Harshy put her head down and spoke in rapid, hushed tones, “Shit. There she is. I was just making that rumor shit up.”

I was about to turn my head when I was jerked back by my hair, “Don’t look. I don’t want that crazy bitch coming over here,” Harshy spittled into my face. Now she had pushed me over the edge. I pushed my chair out, stood up, and walked over to Ms. Spear’s table. She was seated alone in a booth in some crazy disguise that looked like Marisa Tomei’s character in “My cousin, Vinny”. I pulled out my business card and a pen.

“Could I have your autograph, please? My niece is a big fan.”

I could hear Harshy gnashing her menu behind me.