Monday, May 11, 2009

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.

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