by LA Tucker
Part XI: Bleachers, Teachers, and a Preacher's Wife
For disclaimers, see Part
Chloe was sitting in the center of the middle row of bleachers, halfway from the top, halfway to the gym floor, where Sara D' Amico stood explaining to the cast what the schedule was going to be for the rest of the afternoon. Sara's back was towards Chloe, and for some reason, Chloe's eyes hypnotically were tracing the movements of the little red tab on the back pocket on Sara's jeans. The tiny piece of cloth bounced to and fro, up and down, side to side, and at some truly wonderful times, it rather ... writhed when Sara was speaking with enthusiasm. I'm just going to sit here, and watch that talented tab move the rest of the day. I've never seen anything so fascinating in my whole life.
Anyone close to Chloe, anyone who had known her for any length of time, even ten minutes, would know that something was amiss with her, just by looking at her, sitting there alone, in the wide expanse of old wooden bleachers. And if they could have gotten inside her head, not her brain, mind you, but her head, they could have looked past that red tab that Chloe's green eyes were fixated on, and seen that her brain was doing a fast double dribble down the basketball court, pulling up, and shooting an air ball for the basket.
Chloe had an invisible "Out to Lunch" sign tacked to her forehead. Her thoughts bounced and caromed. No one, no one had told her that they loved her before. Well, that's not exactly true. Her parents, relatives, a few overly ambitious amorous boys, Marcy, and some still, to this day, anonymous stalker , well, they didn't count. Even old Whatsername from college had told her that. God, my mind is a blank. Marcy always calls her that. I should try and remember. Chloe tried and immediately gave up. Nah. No one had told her that phrase, 'I love you' and had Chloe react that way to it. This time, it's different. This time, it means the world to me. This time, it means everything to me. Not that Chloe had never loved before, she was quite sure that she loved old Whatsername, but not with the mind altering, heart stopping, button popping, feverish intensity that Chloe now felt pulsing through her veins. So this is it. I'm madly in love, and she's in love with me. She loves me. This is wonderful, I'm totally in love with ...
Chloe's brain came leaping back into her head, got out a staple gun, and tacked itself in around the corners. ... a screwed up, too tall, insecure, petty, controlling, moody, lying, monosyllabic, manipulative harpy who just happens to have the best red tab on her butt that I have ever seen.
Just as Chloe was pondering that thought, the object of Chloe's confusion stopped her speech, and turned, and looked at her and said, "And I'm sure Ms. Donahue has a few things she wants to say to you before we get started." Sara gave her a winning smile, and said, with gusto, "Take it away, Chloe!"
"What happened to her?"
"I don't know, one second I was talking to all the kids, and I turned around, and smiled at her, and the next second, she just kind of slumped to her left, like somebody let all the air out of her."
"Get some water, someone, I thinks she's coming around."
"What's that look she has on her face? She's not going to spew, is she?"
"Justin, go back on the gym floor and shut up."
"Should we call an ambulance? I could call my mother ..."
"Paul, what is your mother going to do for Chloe? Knit her a doily, STAT?"
"Chloe, Chloe, honey, it's Sara. You're in the gym. We think you fainted."
"Wait, her eyes just rolled back again. Maybe we should call an ambulance."
"Chloe, c'mon, sweetheart, I'm here for you baby. Marcy, quit LOOKING at me like that. Oh, alright. We're ALL here for you, honey. Me, Paul, Mo, Jeanette, MARCY, Nelson, all of the Justins. C'mon sweetheart, that's my girl, open your eyes."
Chloe's eyes popped open. There were rounded globes covered with blue cotton very close to them. Nice round, soft, inviting globes with blue cotton, and they were moving, away, then closer, away, then closer. Ahhhhhhhh.
"Hey, Ms. Donahue is staring at Ms. D' Amico's tits! What's up with that?"
"Justin, get down to the gym floor, NOW!"
Chloe, whose head was being cradled in Sara's lap, had indeed been staring at her tits. "Wha happened?" said Chloe, feeling a little like she had done one tequila shooter too many.
Sara glared at Marcy, who prudently decided to let her take charge. She turned her attention to the flickering eyelids of her love. "You fainted, honey. You just fell over like ... "
"A hundred pound bag of wet cement. I saw her. KABLAM!"
Marcy stood up, and her demeanor meant business. "All right, anyone that isn't over the age of 19, alright, Jason, 20, out of this gym, right now, and into the cafeteria until we get Ms. Donahue squared away." Marcy gave them all a vicious stare. "I mean it, I know where Mrs. Raeburn keeps her extra umbrella, and I know how to use it!" That did it, everyone scurried for the door.
Sara unconsciously rubbed her sore arm again. "Paul, do you think maybe you could go down and babysit them?"
Paul, who had to call his mother anyways, it had been nearly 2 hours since he last checked in, nodded, and headed down the bleacher steps.
Sara was cooing to Chloe, who found something, the inside of her eyelids, actually, to keep her from looking where she shouldn't be looking. "C'mon sweetheart, open your eyes, you need to drink some water. We need to see if we need to get you to a doctor." I need to hold you, just like this, the rest of my life. You scared the ever living crap out of me.
Chloe opened her eyes, and drank some water out of a small paper cup that Sara held to her lips. She was slowly coming around.
Sara looked at Marcy. "Does she have low blood sugar? Diabetes? anything that could explain this?" I don't know anything about her at all.
"Not that I know of. Although I know she hasn't been sleeping, or eating right, she's been working like a dog, and completely stressed out, do you suppose that has anything to do with it?" Marcy cocked her head at Sara, knowing Sara wouldn't miss the sarcasm.
Sara bit her lip, and decided to act like a grown up. "Probably." She held the cup to Chloe again. "Here, drink some more."
Chloe did, and tried to sit up a little out of Sara's lap. With Sara's support she almost made it to a sitting position. She felt a little woozy then, and fell into Sara's shoulder and stayed there, with Sara's arms around her.
"Marcy, we need to get some food into her. It will stabilize her blood sugar, if that's the problem. Especially if she hasn't been eating."
"I'll go down to the cafeteria and see what I can find. Here, here's the water bottle, see if you can get more into her."
Marcy grabbed her purse and headed out on her mission.
Chloe, who was nestled on Sara's shoulder, her head tucked under Sara's chin, felt like she didn't want to feel better any time soon.
Sara's arms tightened around her just slightly, just enough to make her more secure. "Hmm?"
"You're an asshole." Chloe murmured, and snuggled in deeper.
"Yes. Yes, I am, sweetheart."
"As soon as I eat something, and feel better, I'm going to kick your ass from here to Niagara Falls." Chloe wrapped a hand around Sara's arm.
"That would be swell, honey, it's been a long time since I've been to the Falls."
"What's that smell? You smell good. Kind of like ... furniture polish."
"Oh. I was cleaning before I came here today."
"Waxy. It's nice."
"And I don't attract any dust all day."
They sat like that for awhile, Chloe held securely in Sara's arms, Sara feeling like finally, finally she was doing something right. Holding the redhead like that, in the quiet gym, reinforced all of the emotions that Sara had been feeling about Chloe. This is meant to be. I'm going to prove it to her in every way I can. Like I told Nelson, I'm a bad, bad person. Chloe feels awful, and yet I feel like I'm going to explode with happiness just because I get the chance to hold her like this. Sara was pretty sure her amateur diagnosis was correct, that Chloe had toppled because of lack of sleep, hellatious work schedule, and no food in the voracious blast furnace better known as Chloe's stomach. And stress. Stress caused by me. The last thing I said to her was that I loved her. Then, she goes ass over teakettle in the bleachers. Sara's happiness at being able to hold Chloe, help her, be so close to her started slowly waning, and guilt started to overcome it. I did this to her. I make her miserable, so she doesn't eat, doesn't sleep. And then I go and hammer her sensibilities with a glib, well planned, 'I love you'. But I meant it. I mean it. But I timed it that way, to rock her. To shock her into some kind of response. Well, it worked.
Marcy entered the gym, with a tuna sandwich, some grapes and a pint of white milk. She climbed the bleachers, and found Sara still holding a now dozing Chloe.
Sara kept her voice low. "She fell asleep. I think we should wake her, get her to eat, get her down to the nurse's office. Maybe she can sleep some more there, or maybe you can take her home?" Sara said softly, not wanting to wake Chloe before she and Marcy formed some kind of a plan.
Marcy's eyes narrowed as she carefully surveyed her redheaded friend's features. "I can stay with her, so you can work with the kids. We can't afford to waste any more practice time with them."
Sara grimly nodded, she didn't want to leave the sleeping woman, even for a moment, but knew that Marcy was right. The friggin' show must go on. "Chloe, sweetheart, wake up. You have to eat something. And then we're going to get you down to that nice bed in the nurse's office."
Chloe, only half dozing, valiantly perked up at the mention of food. She sat up, slowly, as Sara disengaged from underneath her, and propped her up against the bleacher back. She took the food items from Marcy, and quietly ate, while Sara and Marcy spoke about her like she wasn't even there.
"I think I should get her home right away." Marcy began.
"I think she would be better off in the nurse's office for a while. Get her strength back. Plus, if she goes topsy-turvy again, there will be more of us to help out."
Marcy couldn't, as usual, keep the sarcasm out of her voice. "You just want to be there to save her again, don't you? The more I think about it, the more I think that it is all this crap she's been dealing with from you is what made her go belly up in the first place. You know what? More and more, I'm thinking you just aren't good for her. And you know what else? I think, way down deep, she knows it too."
Sara, who was used to being on the receiving end of some pretty nasty zingers from Marcy, and could usually give as good as she got, couldn't think of anything to say to that. She pushed herself into a standing position. "I'll go get Paul. You two can get her home, to the nurse's office, whatever you think is best. I'll give you a few minutes, and then I'll bring the kids back up here so we can get to work. I promised her that I would get these kids ready, and I'm going to do that."
Chloe, still seated up against the bleacher back, had finished her sandwich and most of the milk, too, while she watched the anger flowing from woman to woman. She want to say something to settle both women, but her mind just wasn't working right as yet, so she listened in rapt silence.
Sara started down the bleacher stairs.
Chloe finally found some words, small ones, but they came out, and she meant them. "Sara?"
Sara stopped and turned around. "Yes?"
"Thank you." Chloe's face was expressionless.
"You're welcome. I hope you feel better." Sara gave her a tiny smile, and strode out of the gym.
Marcy had taken Chloe directly home, and put her to bed. She had been asleep most of the afternoon now, the light of the day had faded away, and Marcy turned on a small lamp next to the couch she was sitting on. It was after 5 now, rehearsals were over, and Marcy had intercepted well-meaning calls from Mo Dean, Paul, a parent of a Justin or two, and Doris Raeburn. Paul's mother had even called, and had offered several weird tips on how to speed Chloe along on the path to recovery. Oh, my, the druggist is mixing up her meds again. Nelson called, and it was pretty apparent he was acting as a go between for his Aunt Sara, who really didn't try very hard to hide her stage whispered voice. Marcy didn't have much to report. 'She's sleeping.' 'She's still asleep.' 'She's been sleeping'. 'I'm going to let her sleep.' were the only real news items she had to report.
Chloe's small form, rumpled in a worn flannel nightshirt, appeared and waved at Marcy on the couch. "Bathroom." she said, sleepily. Marcy nodded, and soon heard the toilet flush, the sink running. Chloe appeared again, "Sleep.", and went back to do so. A few minutes later, the phone rang again, and Marcy, irritated, snagged it.
"Marcy, it's Nelson again. Just checking on Ms. Donahue, " he said, sounding a little stilted and embarrassed.
Marcy had enough of this. "Nelson, put your Aunt Sara on the goddamned phone, and you can quit being her 'Howdy Doody' and go do something else on a Saturday night."
Marcy listened to several moments of muffled voices. "Hello, Marcy."
"Hello Sara. She was sleeping, she got up to pee, and she is sleeping again. What else do you want? "
"That was pretty much it." There was a pause, and a sigh. "It's just that I was going so nuts all day, thinking about her."
Sara sounded so surprisingly vulnerable and dejected, that in turn, Marcy's hard heart softened a bit. "I wish I could tell you more. I think she just needs a lot of rest, and some decent food. I'm going to stay here for the duration. Your brother is coming over later to keep me company."
Another pause. "Marcy, you were right. This is all my fault. She's all stressed out because of me. I caused this today."
Marcy was still feeling sympathetic. "I'm sure you are a large part of it, but this play and work have something to do with it, too."
"No, you don't understand." Sara's voice was audibly trembling. "I think I kind of startled her today. I told her that I love her, Marcy."
Marcy was a little surprised, but suppressed it. "That isn't a bad thing, Sara, to tell someone you love them."
"No, I did it to shake it her up. Instead of waiting until a time when it would have some meaning, some romantic setting, I just threw it in her face and walked away from her."
Marcy thought about this for a moment or two. "So you think you maybe 'overloaded' the poor girl, huh?" She let out a rueful laugh. "You know what, I probably should be mad at you, but in the long run, Sara, you know what she's going to remember about this? It's that you told her. If this all works out, it will be a funny story you can tell on ... some kind of anniversary."
Sara was taken aback at the kind understanding that Marcy was displaying. She hadn't expected this, she expected harsh words, and wasn't getting them. "Thank you, Marcy. I'm sorry if I upset you today, but I realize ... that we both love her. I want to be good for her, I really do. I want you to think I am the best possible woman for her to be with."
Marcy officially called a truce, although she left it unstated. "You're getting there. Now, tell your brother to get his butt over here soon. I'm starving, and if Chloe ever wakes up, she's going to have the appetite of a sumo wrestler or two. So tell him to stop and get a bit of everything. Tell him to concentrate on the healthier stuff, but chocolate couldn't hurt, too."
"All right." She hesitated and then said, " And Marcy, do you think you could ..."
"You know what, Sara? That damned Chloe won't let me smoke in her house. Me. Her Best Friend. She makes me go outside to do it. In all kinds of weather. I suppose, during one of my trips outside, I could take my cell phone out with me and ..."
"I'll be at Dave's house, all night, even over night. On the couch. Just anything, Marse, let me know, OK?"
"I've got it on speed dial. I'll let you know. You'll be hearing from me."
"Thank you." Sara paused. "And Marcy, if I haven't told you this before, I think you're perfect for my idiot brother."
Marcy wasn't sure if this was a backhanded compliment or not, but she decided to let it pass.
Chloe woke up at 3:00 AM, Sunday morning, feeling very rested, refreshed and ravenous. She tip-toed out to her living room, and saw Marcy there, snoring on her couch. She adjusted the afghan that Marcy had kicked off, and went into the kitchen to find something to eat. After happily finding a virtual plethora of goodies stuffed in her fridge, she loaded up with as much as she could carry, and headed back to her bedroom to read, and to get crumbs in her bed.
At a more reasonable time of the day, mid-morning, the D' Amico household started to stir, and to begin their day. Dave and Sara had plans to work on the counter for the faux 'pro shop', Nelson was going over to Charlie Shemp's to ride Cargo again. Sara was a bit jealous, she really wanted to go with Nelson, but had already committed her time today to Dave. She would spend a good part of her day reminding Dave to 'measure twice, cut once'. She had heard from Marcy once the night before about Chloe, but the news was the same. Marcy had been unable to come up with new and inventive ways to put a spin on 'she's still sleeping'. And Dave, who rolled in around 1 AM, to find Sara watching an infomercial on his TV, had no news to report, either. He did mention that he made sure that Chloe wouldn't have to go grocery shopping for at least two weeks. He was apparently unfamiliar with Chloe's quite impressive appetite.
Marcy finally awoke around 10 AM, and noticed that Chloe's bedroom door was closed. She used the bathroom, and put on a pot of coffee. She went to Chloe's bedroom door and tapped, and when she got no response, she opened the door, and found Chloe sleeping again, or still. She was comforted to see that there were numerous empty dirty plates on Chloe's night stand, and Chloe seemed to be cuddling a box of graham crackers. She decided to let her be. She drank two cups of coffee, smoked a cigarette guiltily in the kitchen, and sprayed nearly a half a can of room freshener afterwards. She wrote Chloe a note, and left it taped to the bathroom mirror.
Chloe got up around noon, found the note, and the half pot of coffee. She got a shower, dressed in sweats, and decided to spend the day with the remote control clutched in her hand. She called Marcy, told her she felt much better, but no, she wasn't up for any company, and to extend her thanks to Dave for the smorgasbord. The phone rang frequently during the rest of the day, mostly concerned messages about her health and well being, but she let the machine pick them up. Doris Raeburn called three times in succession, fuming the second and third times that 60 seconds wasn't long enough for her to get across everything she needed to say. Chloe made a pretty fair dent on the food supply in the fridge.
Sara accompanied Dave to the hardware store around mid afternoon, and on the short ride back, she had a goodly-size panic attack and made Dave pull over. He waited in the Explorer while she paced up and down the shoulder of the road, waiting for it to subside. It finally did, she got back into the vehicle, and they went back and finished up the counter. Nothing was said about the attack.
Marcy arrived at the D' Amico's around 5, and was treated to the odd splendor of the D' Amico's idea of a Sunday Family dinner. She made a comment or two about eating ice cream while the chicken breasts were being sautéed, but eventually gave into the weirdness, and embraced it. Dessert consisted of coffee and some beef jerky that Nelson found in his backpack.
Marcy called Chloe a little later, and found that Chloe had done nothing to speak of during her day, and seemed quite happy with that. After relaying that non-news to the D' Amico clan, everyone went into the living room, and spent the rest of the evening in front of the television set, making many crude remarks about wanting to be 'touched' by that angel, Roma Downey, and then fought for dominance of the remote control.
All in all, a pretty dull Sunday.
Sara was in Dave's kitchen on Monday morning, pouring herself the last cup of coffee for the morning, when the phone rang. She sipped at the coffee, and added a bit of sugar to ward off the 'bottom of the pot' bitterness, and listened as the machine picked up.
"Uh, hello, this is Chloe, and this message is for Sara ... "
The coffee cup hit the bottom of the sink as Sara tossed it, and then bolted to pick up the phone.
"Hello, Chloe? It's me, it's Sara." For some reason, she was feeling breathless after sprinting that 8 feet to the telephone.
"Oh, hi, I didn't expect anyone to be there. I was just going to leave a message for you."
"How are you feeling? Where are you?"
"I'm at the library, I just opened it up. I'm fine. All rested."
"Good. Good. I was worried ..." Sara listened, and Chloe said nothing to that.
"Sara, we have to get together and have that meeting, so I can leave the dance details to you, and I can concentrate on other aspects of the play."
"Anytime you want."
Chloe scratched her upper lip with her lower teeth. "I was thinking maybe later this afternoon, around 5 or so?"
"Sure, I'll be here. Just come on by."
"Uh, no. I thought we could meet here in the library. I have to be here until close tonight, I've got a monthly shipment coming in, no volunteer today, the county auditor is supposed to stop by, and the Dever twins will be coming in at 4. I was hoping you could come here. There's a small room off of the periodical section, we could meet there."
She considers this enemy territory now, huh? "Well, hopefully Nelson will be home after school, and he can give me a ride. He usually comes home before he takes off anywhere. I could call the school ..."
"I'll be talking to Marcy around lunchtime. I'll have her hunt Nelson down, and relay the message."
"See you then. If you can't make it, just call here."
Those last two words never made it to Chloe's ears; she had already hung up. Sara looked at the kitchen clock, just past nine. Great, I have 8 hours to work myself up into one hell of a mess.
Monday, the day dreaded by the workforce world wide, was living up to its bad reputation for Chloe. The shipment of new books, over a hundred of them, didn't even arrive until after 2 pm. Normally, the monthly shipment was there right after she opened. She had to get them checked in, checked for faults, jacketed, catalogued and entered into the computer system. Ron Johnson, the weasely county auditor who was coming by to 'check the books', called and said he wasn't coming until 4, he had a bad molar that needed looked at, and since the library was open 'til 8, that would give him ample time to complete his job. 'Check the books', huh? Chloe did very little in the way of having to do anything with the economic part of the library, the only actual money that came in was from used book sales, and late fines. Chloe dutifully did a deposit on Fridays at the local bank, and it rarely added up to more than $150. Payroll and book purchases were taken care of by the main county library in Erie. Chloe was on salary, so she didn't have to report her time, all she had to do, really, was send in the twins' and the other student employees time cards, and send them in a manila envelope every other Monday to Erie. Perhaps Ron thinks I am skimming from the late fees. So I can take that big, wild bus trip to Atlantic City at the end of April. Oh, yeah.
When both the twins and Ron Johnson showed up at 4, Chloe was behind the check-out counter, hip deep in cartons of books. She shot the twins an 'I'm not in any mood' look, and walked Ron back to her office, where she handed him a folder with the last 3 month's worth of receipts and paperwork. She wanted to get the last carton of books opened and examined before 5, when Sara was to arrive. Chloe had already entered them all into the computer, and had decided to let the twins work on the grunt work of jacketing them and placing the bar codes on them. This is stupid, we don't even have a bar code reader. The library being so small, the county didn't feel the need to make the expense. So in this little library, they still put a small pocket in the back cover of the book, with a small card to stamp with the return date. It in turn irritated, and comforted Chloe, knowing that the library was so old fashioned.
Nelson dropped off his clearly anxious Aunt in front of the library at 4:30, apologizing again that he was sorry he wouldn't be able to pick her up until 8. He had to pick Jeanette and go into Erie, to pick up a few more props and dresses that Ms. Donahue had tracked down at several different high schools there. He wasn't all that familiar with the city, other than how to get to the mall, the Peninsula, and he was a little worried himself that he wouldn't be able to find his way around without getting lost. Jeanette, a native of Erie until a few years back, happily had agreed to accompany him. Sara waved off his apology again, and got out of the truck.
She checked her watch. Good, I can walk off some of this nervousness before I have to go in there. Sara had been unsettled for the last few days, feeling constantly like she was on the verge of an attack. The fear of having an attack is just as bad as actually having one. It was that constant feeling of the maybe, the might, the it could happen that kept Sara so close to home. The possibility, or in her mind, the probability, even the certainty that an attack could occur at any moment had reinforced Sara's belief that home, and her family, were the safest, least demanding places she could be. So she avoided going places, or even the idea of going places, because just that little tiny nugget of the what if could precipitate an episode of panicked dread. So although Sara rarely had what could be described as a textbook panic attack now, the memories of past ones and the possibility of future ones effectively crippled her former natural tendency to be adventurous. I may be still into avoidance, but at least I'm not in deep denial anymore.
It was now 4:45, and the retreating of the sun had taken out any warmth that had been in the air. Sara shivered, and decided to be a little early. She walked into the library, and blinked, for the first thing she saw was two young men behind the checkout counter, mirror images of each other. She blinked again, and realized that the young men were twins. That's a relief. Thought I might have doubled up on my meds today by mistake. Chloe wasn't in the immediate vicinity, so Sara walked through the small lobby, and towards the the old wooden book shelves. I haven't been here in 20 years, and it still looks the same. Still smells the same. An odd, comforting smell of old books, oaken shelves built in the 1920's, after the town's original library had burnt down. Even the carpeting looked exactly the same, worn in spots. The carpeting gave way to lightly varnished hardwood floors between the stacks. No wonder she likes it here. It has a feel to it that is comfortable and inviting. The high ceilings, with carved archways, gently sloped to meet the off white walls that held the faded prints of writers like Whitman, Austen and Twain . It was not like the crisp, clean, sterile interiors of modern libraries, which often looked like they were imitating the atmosphere of a Barnes and Nobles. Sara sniffed the air again. Ahh, that's why Chloe liked my Lemon Pledge scent the other day. That's what it smells like in here. Sara smiled and walked down the new releases section, and picked up a few different books and read their jackets.
"Find anything interesting?" a soft voice whispered behind her. Sara turned to find Chloe, in black slacks and a soft gray sweater, standing behind her.
Sara took a long look, up and down, and couldn't help herself. "I'll say."
Chloe quickly looked away. "I have a couple of things I have to do yet. Would you wait in the conference room, over by the periodicals? I shouldn't be long." She waited for an acknowledgment from Sara, and then turned and walked away.
Sara shook off her disappointment at finding Chloe still obviously uncomfortable with her presence. Sara looked around the small library, and decided that the conference room must be that room next to the magazine racks. It was a small room, with an old six seat table in it, there wasn't much room for anything else. There were years worth of initials scratched deeply into the wood grain of the table. The room itself was windowed, it looked out into the library, with the remaining exterior walls being lined with the prints of old philosophers. Clearly, this was a room meant for thinking. Sara laid the small folder she had brought with her on the table, and took off her coat and laid it over the chair. She decided to sit in a chair where she could look out into the library. On the table was a copy of the weekly town newspaper, the Stonecreek Courier. Sara picked it up, and idly started reading through it. It was a small publication, mostly ads, news stories of weddings and baby arrivals, news of the town council meetings, PTA announcements, high school sports results and other local goings ons. Sara found a small headline that captured her interest, and she was just finishing the story when Chloe walked into the room.
Sara looked up from the paper, and said irritated, to Chloe, "This is idiotic, this guy actually reviewed a junior high school play, and gave them a bad review. You don't do that to junior high kids, god, who does he think he is, Roger Ebert or something?"
Chloe, curious, moved behind Sara's chair to read aloud over her shoulder.
'Heather Buetikofer displayed a distinct lack of understanding of her character, she was harsh and strident, when the characterization called for a more demure and feminine portrayal.' " Chloe shook her head. "What character was she playing?"
"I dunno, one of the witches in 'The Wizard of Oz' for god's sakes. Since when do 7th graders merit critical review?" Sara shook her head angrily.
"He's just a local jerk with delusions of grandeur. You should have seen what he wrote about us last year. When we did the opera."
Sara winced. "You guys did an opera? In high school?" She shook her head at Chloe. "What were you thinking?"
Chloe felt an odd sense of deja vu. "Never mind, let's just say it went over ... like a part-time drama teacher in the middle of some gymnasium bleachers." Chloe managed a small smile. "Splat."
Sara smiled back at that. "Well, that was a sight to see." She turned her attention to the article again. "Who is this guy, anyways, who picks on little kids?"
Chloe grimaced. "Jay Caesar. He owns the pizza shop up the street."
Sara closed the paper in disgust. "Well, he'd better watch himself around me. I won't stand for Mr. Caesar crucifying us."
"You already thinking we're going to stink up the joint? Having a premonition, a vision or something?" Chloe had to smile at Sara's heated vehemence.
"Well, no, but well, I just won't let it happen." Sara said grumpily. "Remind me never to get pizzas from that place."
Chloe sat on the same side of the table as Sara, but she left the seat between them vacant. She laid her canvas bag on the empty seat, and pulled out her script and notebook of all her notes and sketches. Just as she was going to ask Sara if she was ready to start, she glanced out the plate glass window separating them from the periodicals section. "Oh, no. I forgot." she said, wide-eyed.
Sara looked out the window, and saw an older woman, settling into a chair around a large round table just on the other side of the conference room they were in. "What?" she said, not seeing what the problem was.
"It's 'Book Club' night." Chloe's voice quavered. "I'm never here for 'Book Club' night. I avoid it. Like I've avoided sex with men."
"What's so bad about the book club?" Sara said, curious at Chloe's apprehension.
"Too late. Here they come. I was hoping we could make a dash for it."
Sara looked out the glass again, and saw four more women approach the round table, and begin to take their coats off. She didn't recognize any of them, wait, yes, yes it was. "Doris Raeburn." she breathed. She instinctively looked to see if Doris had an umbrella with her.
"The skinny tall one is Mrs. Cellone, my senior volunteer ... and the one with the poodles on her blouse, that's Paul's mother, Mrs. Hoderman. The one with the cane is the town council president's wife, Bella Stavros. She's Jeanette's grandmother. And the one with the big ... bosom, that's Pastor Fuller's wife, Naomi. We have the complete set of the town's biggest gossips, right outside that window, and here comes two of them now."
Sara saw Doris Raeburn wave through the window, with Paul's mother in tow, and then they both came in and stood just in side the doorway. "Well, look at who we have here, Helen, it's our intrepid librarian and play director, and her mysterious friend the Big Movie Star. Chloe, you already know Helen. Helen, this is Sara D' Amico, an esteemed alumni of Fort Lafayette High School, and one of the premiere attendees of my detention halls during her time there."
Sara stood up, to shake Mrs. Hoderman's hand. Mrs. Hoderman made no bones about pulling Sara close, and examining Sara's face in detail. "Nice to meet you, Sara." She let the startled Sara's hand drop, and took a step back. "You were right, Doris. No big deal. Can't hardly see it." She turned her attention to Chloe, who was trying to come up with a quick reason for them to escape. "And you, Chloe, how are you feeling? We all heard about you swooning the other day. You aren't eating right. You need to have a few saltines in the morning, that will settle your stomach, and then you can eat other things. Take vitamins. Drink lots of milk. Have you seen your doctor yet? I'm sure he'll tell you the same things I'm telling you."
Chloe just dumbly nodded and felt her mouth forming words. "Yeah, OK. I'll do that. Sounds good. See my doctor. Well, Sara and I were just finishing up here, we have to get to ..." Chloe hadn't gotten that far in her planning yet. She looked desperately into Sara's eyes. Please!
"... The Embers. We're meeting my brother Dave there for dinner." Sara checked her watch, and then looked at Helen and Doris. "It's a shame we don't have more time to chat, but we're running late now." She tried to look as disappointed as possible.
Chloe took her cue, and started gathering her things. "Yes, well, I don't want to keep Dave waiting. I just need to grab my coat from the office, talk to the twins and we're on our way."
Sara was already moving, and she grabbed Chloe's arm to make sure they didn't get ambushed and separated during their escape. They made it out the door, and Sara, still pulling Chloe behind her, smiled a movie star smile at the rest of the group at the round table, said "Hi, we're running late." and kept on going.
Chloe broke away from Sara just long enough to grab her coat from the closet. She glared at the Dever twins, said, "Work, or you're dead." and joined Sara to rush out the front door. They got to the end of the short sidewalk at the front of the library, looked at each other, and started laughing.
Chloe stepped up very close to Sara, and peered up and stared at her face. "No big deal. Can't hardly see it."
Sara stared back down at her. "And she somehow feels the need to tell YOU to eat? She's never broken bread with you, I can tell ..."
They both started laughing again. "And Doris, that was great, ", giggled Chloe. "We never gave her a chance to start on one of her famous monologues."
Sara smiled. "I dunno, I was too busy looking to see if she had her umbrella with her ... "
Chloe spent some time adjusting her coat and getting it buttoned up. Now what? "Well, uh ..."
"Guess we'll have to reschedule, huh?" Sara said, suddenly feeling a little less giddy.
Chloe frowned. "Give me a minute here, Sara. I need to think." I guess it wouldn't hurt. "Have you eaten yet? We could go to the diner, or really go to the Embers, if you want. "
Sara shuffled distractedly. "Nelson was going to stop here at the library to pick me up when he got back. He won't know where I am. "
Chloe looked at her Subaru. "I can get you home. It's not a problem. I'll just go back in and tell the twins ... on second thought, I'll call the twins from wherever we end up." Chloe's eyes twinkled under the street lamps. "I'm just so relieved we made it out of there. We never would have gotten a thing done." She looked up to see Sara's face. Sara was staring at her, her expression soft and wistful. Chloe got caught up in that gaze for a moment and murmured, "What?"
"You don't want to know."
Chloe broke the moment. "Stop that." she said, exasperated.
"I'm sorry, Chloe. I have to know when we are going to talk about this. This is making me crazy." Sara saw an opportunity to try and get through to Chloe. Her voice dropped low. "You're all I can think about, all I dream about. "
Chloe's heart started beating faster. She felt her blood burning through her veins. She turned away from Sara, and then turned right back again. She moved closer to her, so there were mere inches between them. "Sara?" she said a little breathlessly, "Would you like to ... come home with me?" She looked deeply into Sara's eyes.
Sara hadn't expected this. She got a slow smile on her face. "Yes. I'd love that, Chloe. That ... would be wonderful."
Chloe backed away from her. "So we could have some BIG FUN?" she snapped, the phrase burning a path to Sara's memory. "Oh, wait, I'm not your type, remember? You were just playing! That's right, I lay it all out on the line with you, tell you I want you, and you tell me you don't want me. I forgot, I was 'used goods' by then, wasn't I, because I slept with Audra. Well, let me tell you, I'd sooner sleep with your brother, because you, you are NOT my type any longer. Can you get that through your thick skull?!"
Sara stepped back, stung by the contempt in Chloe's words . "I gotcha." She was at a complete loss as to what to say, what to do next.
Chloe paced the sidewalk, and then stopped, and hitched her canvas bag over her shoulder. Her emotions clamped down, she began speaking in a monotone. "Now, we have some things to go over. I suggested that we go to the diner, eat, and discuss them." Her lips twitched as she eyed Sara. "Do you think you can manage an hour or two with me, so we can get this done, without pissing me off again?"
Sara rose to her tallest height, and her lips turned down in determination. "I'll do my best."
Chloe turned and headed for the Subaru. "Good.
Continued in Part XII
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