by LA Tucker
Part XXVII: Communications 101
For disclaimers see Part
Sara was putting the Comet into fourth gear, feeling the responsiveness of the old car as she tooled up Route 20 on her way to the library. For a fleeting moment or two, she thought about just flying by the library, the town, and continuing her trek, solo, up Route 20, perhaps then heading north for a bit, to get on Route 5, and taking a joyride, a think ride, a calming ride along the lakeside road. She desperately needed to think. Her stomach was doing mini-bungee jumps from all of the unsettling events of the day. As she neared town center, and the little library, her right foot decided for her, and she didn't slow, but just kept on going. I just need a half hour. I can circle back at the New York state line. Moments later, she was still heading east, and was now passing Chloe's little house, then the driveway for Charlie Shemp's, and soon she was out of the town completely, and speeding along at a comfortable 60 miles per hour.
Jesus, what a day. And I know it's not going to get any easier. Chloe was pissed, I could tell, when I called her, although she was work, and had to keep her voice down. Sara recalled the rather stilted conversation that had transpired.
"Hello, Stonecreek Public Library, how may I help you?"
"Hey, Chloe." Sara had said carefully, but with warmth in her voice.
"Sorry, I didn't know you were looking for me, I would've called sooner."
There was a slight pause before Chloe replied. "I tried calling, Ralph said you were somewhere out on the course, or I thought maybe you'd left."
Sara heard the uncertainty in those last few words, and knew that Chloe had thought perhaps Sara had taken off with Jennie somewhere.
"Nope. Didn't leave was here all day ... I should have checked in with Ralph. Dave was off getting parts for the golf cart that isn't running. I'm really sorry." Somehow, Sara knew that she would be repeating the words 'I'm sorry' a lot to Chloe in the next few hours. That's OK, I'll do whatever it takes. "Maybe we should come up with some kind of warning system ... you could send up flares, bang on a pan or something ..." she joked lamely.
The silence that followed showed that Chloe wasn't in the mood for any jokes, no matter what the quality.
When Chloe didn't comment, Sara continued. "Chloe? You there?"
Another pause. "It was her, wasn't it?" She could barely hear Chloe, she could hear some rustling in the background, maybe Chloe didn't have the phone directly in front of her mouth. Or maybe she was just being quiet.
Sara sighed before she answered. "Yup. You were right, it was her. She wasn't here long."
Yet another wait. "Hang on Sara. I have some folks to help."
Sara heard the complete silence of being put on 'hold'. She mentally thanked someone, anyone, for not having to sit through phone hold music, and the proverbial 'your call is important to us' recording that was ever present in every other businesses telephone system. Oh yeah, she's mad ... or hurt ... or both. She took this time to mentally spank herself. Why, oh why, didn't I just call her quickly after Jennie left? I was right there, near the clubhouse, just ... oh yeah, that damned photographer. Sara's skin prickled at the mere thought of him. I just wanted to go cool down first.
"Yeah, honey, I'm still here. Busy at the 'brary today?"
Chloe's voice showed some of her frustration, at least in regards to her job. "You could say that. Book shipment, my volunteer's day off, the twins' grandmother died for the sixth or seventh time, so they're not here ... I'm stuck here until close ... and ... there's book club tonight."
Sara groaned. "Oh shit, I'm sorry. I'll get there as soon as I can, and help you out. Maybe I can at least keep Doris' posse at bay." Sara's head turned, and looked at the beginnings of the darkening evening outside the open clubhouse doors. "I just let Ralph go home, Dave's not back yet, I'm not sure anyone is still out on the course. Marcy's up at the house making dinner for him. She's getting so domestic now that she's pregnant ... "
There was a decidedly pregnant pause before Chloe answered. "That's OK. It'll keep. I have a thousand things to do ... I can handle the posse myself. We can get together later ... or tomorrow."
Sara knew for sure that she was in deep manure now. She and Chloe were never apart in the evenings now, they either slept at Sara's bungalow, or at Chloe's house, every night. It was something they had never discussed, it just had come about naturally. "No, I'm going to come help. It's the least I can do ..." Sara said decisively.
"Whatever." Chloe sounded dejected. "It doesn't matter ... if you want to, don't want to ... I won't ... count on you. I have to go, someone needs me out in the reference section. " 'Bye, Sara."
The phone clicked off before Sara could return the 'goodbye'. Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit.
Sara was nearly at the New York state line now. She pushed the little button on the side of her watch, and checked the neon glow that lit up the dial. Six thirty. I can go just a little bit farther, and then turn around. I still need some time before I go see the person who doesn't want to count on me.
"Wha?" Dave said, his mouth full.
"I should call her."
Dave finished chewing, and then took another mouthful of milk. "We talked about this already."
Marcy was intent on forgetting that conversation, like it never happened. "She needs to talk to somebody, I know she's stuck at that library and your sister ..."
"My sister is on the way to talk to her. They'll figure it out, Marcy ..." Dave almost felt a little pang of jealousy towards Chloe, for as slow as he was on the uptake, he knew of the deep feelings Marcy held for the librarian.
"But what if she upsets Chloe? What if ..."
Dave gave Marcy a tender, and patient smile. "They'll figure it out, Marse. They love each other ..."
Marcy pushed her own green beans around her plate. "I know but I should ..."
Dave tapped his glass against hers, to bring her head up so he could meet her eyes. He smiled, and said nothing, holding her gaze. She stared back at him, her frown finally turning into a sheepish grin.
"Well, Dave, looks like I have to cut the strings on Chloe, huh?" Marcy said wistfully.
"Nah, hon, don't cut them ... just ... let the line out ... a little bit longer."
Marcy sighed, took one last look towards the phone, and with a determined nod, smiled at Dave, and went back to her dinner.
Chloe was farther behind in her work than she even wanted to admit to herself. After Jennifer left today, and between phone calls to leave messages with Ralph, Chloe had left the cartons of books unattended, and fired up the library's decrepit internet connection, typing in the search words 'Jennifer Swanson' and 'agent'. She was surprised to find many photos of her there, and even an old website from years back, when apparently Ms. Swanson made her living as a runway and fashion magazine model. Somewhere along the line, Jennifer had moved over to the other side of the business, and Sara, who'd appeared in several print ads with her, was one of her first clients. She worked as an agent now with one of the larger talent management companies, and she had several notable, if not out-right famous, star names she represented. There was even a picture of Sara and Ms. Swanson together, at an after-party for the premiere of 'Star Gazers', and they stood together, smiling, holding elegant champagne flutes, looking glamorous and perfect together, a spectrum of dark and light, of casual glamour, of comfortable togetherness. Chloe had shut down the internet after burning this image in her mind, and had immediately dug around in a drawer for a roll of antacids she kept buried there. She chewed one, then another, her molars grinding them like a starving coyote chowing down on a finally found fresh kill.
That was two hours ago. It was nearly 7 o'clock now, and Chloe was still behind the counter, unloading cartons and comparing them against the shipping label. Her mind was barely registering on her task. The members of the book club had sauntered in at 6, kept her busy with many friendly hellos, and not a few eyes were keeping tabs on the little librarian from their table in the back.
Doris Raeburn was the most concerned about her dear friend, she was confused by the lack of a smile on Chloe's usually friendly face, and the few words that Chloe had spoken. Doris' curiosity was nagging at her, and although she and her friends were actually trying to talk about books tonight, the conversation, whispered and frowning, turned again to the subdued redhead up behind the counter.
"Look at her, Doris, she's practically on the verge of tears."
Doris snuck a peek up at Chloe, Mrs. Hoderman was right. Chloe's face was set so that only teardrops were missing from the picture. This is too much, I should do something ...
Mrs. Hoderman spoke again, all the eyes at the table were now fixed on Chloe. "I still think she's upset about that Dave D'Amico and Marcy Artist Person getting engaged. I'm sure that's what it is ..."
Doris spoke sharply to her old friend, and the others at the table were secretly pleased that Doris was taking charge and giving the old busybody what's what. "Helen, for the last time, Chloe never was interested in David D'Amico, nor he in her. That was just a stupid rumor. So knock it off, before I do nasty things to you with my umbrella."
Naomi Fuller nodded quickly, then stole another glance at Chloe. "Well, Doris, even so, that face up there, that's a face full of heartbreak, if ever I've seen one."
The pastor's wife's words hit home with all of them, and they all, in unison, studied the librarian again, and each one agreed with Naomi's assessment.
Doris sighed. "Iris, I need to talk to Chloe alone. Would you mind watching the front desk while I do? I want to take her into her office."
Mrs. Cellone nodded her agreement. She adored the little librarian, and was going to do whatever she could to help out.
Helen Hoderman's chair pushed back, and she looked as though she was determined to accompany Doris and Iris up to the front desk.
Doris noticed Helen's move. "Uh uh, Helen. You stay parked, or I'll tell everyone about a certain operation you had some years back."
Helen's chair moved back towards the table and she glared at Doris. "I just wanted to help."
Doris was already moving away from the table with Mrs. Cellone, and gave the older woman a grin mixed with a glare. "You can help by staying right where you are, and talking about someone else for a change. Like me. There's plenty you can talk about me about. Get to it. We'll be back."
Sara was on Route 5, not driving it, but standing in the deep underbrush next to it. She had been pacing in the tall weeds for nearly twenty minutes now, trying to take command of her racing heart. She'd used every calming technique she'd learned in therapy, every soothing scenario and even a few things that she had come up with, herself, in an attempt to calm herself down, so she could continue her trip back to Chloe.
Every blue sky she envisioned was interrupted by the sad visage of her lover. Every summer night sky was visited by a frowning Chloe. Each and every beach, with softly lapping waves breaking onto the shore soon had Chloe sitting next to her, questioning her with silent green eyes.
The beach scene was easiest for Sara to conjure up, she was a mere 50 paces from the cold shores of Lake Erie. The sounds of the waves lulled her momentarily, but when Chloe appeared in her scenario, it was always in her arms, head on her shoulder, and then the redhead would pull away, giving her a look like she didn't know how she had arrived there with her. Sara would look into those confused eyes, and not being able to explain, would look at her, a slow smile crossing her face, trying somehow to reassure her small lover that everything would be all right as long as they were together.
As long as we're together, everything will be all right. Sara began pacing along the highway again. As long as we're together, everything will be all right. She started repeating this phrase in her head, and was surprised to find that her beating heart slowed with every repetition of those words. The blackness began to dissipate, and in Sara's mind, she took the redhead back into her arms, and they held each other again, this time the both of them feeling the truth of Sara's words. As long as we're together ...
Doris and Chloe were now in Chloe's private office, and Chloe hadn't said a word, which really wasn't surprising, after all, she was in the company of Doris Raeburn. Chloe hadn't even put up a fight when Doris had suggested that Mrs. Cellone take over the front desk for a while, and they should go have a talk. Doris now had proof positive that that usually battling librarian was out of sorts.
Doris, as usual, couldn't put a cap on her usual brusque manner. She eyed Chloe, who had immediately sat down in her office chair, slumping like weeping willow.
"What IS the matter, dear? You look like someone killed Dumbo, Old Yeller and Thumper off in front of a firing squad. You aren't just PMSing, are you? Are you fighting with Marcy over her ineptness in tree-painting? Still missing the cow patties?" Doris was trying to get the small redhead to smile, and it wasn't working. Chloe just kept her eyes wandering off into space, not meeting Doris' inquiring stare. Doris pulled up a chair across from Chloe and tried again. "It's something to do with that Sara, isn't it?" She actually waited for Chloe's numb nod of agreement before she continued. "I kind of figured. She, all those years back, used to give me grief that she'll never make up for. And that bull's head ... I still need to hire someone to get her back for that. I've had bad dreams of that ever since ... I swear, I should trade my umbrella in for something more damaging, a big stick or something ... put some permanent damage to that girl." That brought a faint smile to Chloe, but it quickly disappeared. "So, are you going to tell me, or do I have to go get Helen Hoderman in here so she can start rumors about you wanting to join a religious cult or something? Talk to me." Doris resolutely clamped her lips together, it was a hard, hard thing for her to do.
Chloe leaned back in her desk swivel chair, and turned a little, back and forth before she met Doris's eyes. She cleared her throat, and gave the older woman a sad grimace. "Yeah, you're right, it's Sara." She looked away again.
Doris steeled herself, and gathered oxygen, as was her style. "I knew it. That girl is a heartbreaker. She has a knack for screwing up the simplest things ... I could tell you stories, and more stories of what a terror she was in high school. Every time I thought she was on the right track, wham, right back into trouble again. I was on the phone with her mother twice a day, and even between the two of us, we couldn't figure her out. She was almost self-destructive, she would turn good into bad without blinking an eye. I was hoping she had grown up, and out of it ... but from the looks of you, dear, it looks like she hasn't learned. Now sit up straight, quit slouching, take a few breaths, and tell me what's going on."
Chloe looked at her, and did exactly as she was directed. "I think Sara is going to leave here, go back to Hollywood. Her old agent showed up in town today, talked to her about I don't know what." Chloe's hands flopped down in her lap in resignation. "She never called me to tell me she showed up. The agent came here first, so I knew who she was. She apparently went out to the golf course to talk with Sara. But Sara never even called me. Never even gave me a second thought." Chloe's voice began to tremble a little, and she glanced at the file cabinet to concentrate on anything but Doris' unwavering gaze upon her. "So, I'm thinking, all day, that it must be bad news ... I mean, for me. That Sara ..." Chloe's voice cracked now, and a tear formed in her eye, " ... will be leaving here soon." Chloe's voice broke all the way, and a sob came out, "... will be leaving me soon."
Doris frowned, and leaned across Chloe's desk, pushing a box of tissues at her. Best let her cry while I talk to her. She needs to cry, no need to try and stop her, poor girl.
"Go ahead and let it out, dear." Doris said as gently as she could. Chloe's chest was heaving now with sobs, and the librarian plucked a few tissues from the box and cried into them. "So, you said you didn't talk to Sara about this? What if she just told the agent ... a woman, right? ... 'no', and that's the end of it? Are you sure you're not letting your imagination run away with you? That would be so typical of you dear, you are the most imaginative woman that I know ... always had your nose stuck in a book in school, you were always writing those crazy essays that the English teachers couldn't figure out ... and now you direct plays, and the occasional musical. And I'll never understand why you attempted that opera for god's sakes ... I mean, if that wasn't a home run in the ballpark of imagination, I don't know what was! " Doris stopped for a moment, and watched Chloe blow her nose, and her sobbing settled down a little. "Now, tell me why you haven't just talked to Sara about this, so your mind wouldn't be all twisted up tighter than Helen Hoderman's pantyhose."
"I don't know." Chloe hiccuped between tears. "I talked to her ... briefly ... hours ago. She said she was going to come out here to the library, but she never showed up." Chloe's eyes filled with tears again. "All I can figure is she's trying to hold off the bad news to me." Chloe began crying anew.
Doris felt like she had yet another 16 year old girl in front of her, her heart in distress, and seeking relief from the older woman. Doris proceeded accordingly. "All right, dear, you keep crying, I'm going to think this out, for the both of us, logically." Doris drummed her fingers on her armrest. "So, she said she was going to be here a few hours ago. Let's give her the benefit of the doubt, although, with her history, that's a tough one for me to achieve ... and let's just say she got held up at the golf course." Doris paused, and sucked in more air. "Now, let's get to YOUR little problem. That's right, your problem. You think she's going to go back to Hollywood, and just leave you behind, don't you?" Doris knew she had nailed it, Chloe's sobs got louder. "Uh huh. You love her, don't you?" Chloe's sobs paused long enough to just nod at Doris. "Well, she loves you. Don't look at me like that, I've been around that woman, that girl, really, more than you have. She's not much different than the 17 year old colt that almost took up permanent residence in my office. I know that girl. She's always on the verge of doing something right, but something in her just stops her from doing it. She's been missing something, all these years. When I finally found out about you two, I thought to myself, 'Doris, these two are just what the other needed'. Chloe, you know I'm right. You bring a sense of ... purpose and calmness to that woman. And believe it or not, she's a godsend to YOU."
Chloe blew her nose several times in succession. She narrowed her eyes at Doris's last few words, about Sara being a 'godsend' to her.
Doris sighed. "I know you, too, Chloe. You're the perfect, bright and hesitant little librarian. This ... aggravating ... woman has brought out in you ... a long buried sense of adventure. Finally, after all these years of watching you, you're finally coming out of your shell, actually having some ... escapades ... I know, I know, they're small ones, but for god's sakes, dealing with that woman, being in love with her must be an adventure every minute. Now maybe, just maybe, you being with her will get your nose out of your books and scripts, and you can actually LIVE an adventure or two, and quit just reading about them." She squinted at Chloe, whose red eyes were getting a little bigger as she took in Doris' words. "Ever thought of just letting go, maybe just , I don't know, running with the lemmings for a while? I know how that woman feels about you. You can see it in her eyes, the way she talks about you. When you were having your little tiffs, I could almost see her heart bleeding on her sleeve for you. You have a power over her that her family, her friends and especially me ... never did. I know she'll do anything for you. But the big question is ... are you going to MAKE her do anything for you ... just so you can stay safe here in this little town?"
Chloe wiped at her nose, sniffed it, and swiveled a little in her chair, obviously uncomfortable with Doris' pointed question. I could just lock up now, and head for Marcy's. She wouldn't be asking me these questions ... that I don't want to answer. I don't want to think about it.
"Chloe?" Doris wasn't about to let Chloe zone out on her now. There was important stuff on the table, and Doris liked to have things settled. Whether Chloe liked it or not.
"Yeah. Yeah." Chloe said distractedly, her worry over Sara now turning into annoyance at being stuck here with Doris. "I don't know."
"That's not an answer, Chloe. That's avoidance."
Chloe's impatience at her feeling that she was being grilled filled her next words. "I said, I don't know. If Sara just wants to leave, who am I to tell her not to go? I mean, you should have seen that woman, that agent today ... like something out of a fashion magazine. Hell, she used to BE in magazines ... I mean, if that's something Sara wants to go back to, more power to her ... I can't compete with that ..." Chloe looked away from Doris, and stonily stared at the shelves at her wall.
"Chloe, listen to yourself. You're talking yourself into just letting her go, and we don't know, right now, if that's even a possibility? What I don't get, what I can't figure, is why you're convincing yourself that it has to be over even if she does want to go. What makes you think she wouldn't want to take you with her?"
"I wouldn't." Chloe said firmly. "She knows I don't want to leave here."
Doris was getting a little annoyed herself. "Well, isn't that delightful? Aren't you just the ... maybe I've been wrong about you, Chloe, all these years. I thought you had more ... grit. You don't do you? Maybe I overestimated you, and you just are ... a simple little librarian, who would rather read about love and all of the trials and tribulations of it, than take a chance on living it out for yourself?" Doris could see that Chloe wasn't liking her message one bit. Doris plowed on, though, hoping to get a rise out of Chloe. "What are you going to do here? Put up books all your life, read them? Take Dr. Seuss books over to Marcy's and play the doting aunt? Maybe when you do, maybe when you're holding Marcy's and Dave's little 2 year old on your lap, you'll hear stories about Dave's sister, wherever she is, and you can sit and wonder, and regret ... your lack of spirit. Regret is a horrible, terrible feeling, Chloe, especially when you regret in your heart. Regrets, I've had a few ... some of them with my own love life. Now, I'm afraid I'm going to be looking at you ... and having them for you." Doris shook her head, and waited for Chloe to look at her. "We've all heard about Sara's problems with fear ... but I'm afraid ... you are the one with the big problem with fear. Such a waste."
Chloe's fighting spirit was finally coming to the fore. She slowly rose out of her chair, and stood up, her tears now gone, and a glare starting in her eyes. "I am not like that. Don't think that. I fight, and win, little battles every day. I'm not about to apologize for loving this town, these people here. That's not fair of you ... just because I love Sara, doesn't mean I have to give up everything I've every wanted ... my job, my friends ... including you ... I've worked hard for ... " Chloe's eyes slowly scanned the tiny, unkempt room, and her voice faltered, "all of this ..." She finished weakly, and she sat back down in her chair, a small look of comprehension sneaking onto her face. She ran a hand through her shaggy locks, and looked at Doris for some kind of ... help.
Doris let out a small chuckle. "Yup. All of this. Yup, Chloe, I can see how all of this is more important than ... the infinite glory of a great love. Now you listen to me. I know I go on and on, and on and on, but that's just my way. I think of you, and I don't care if you like it or not, like the daughter I never had. I never had a girl of my own to browbeat and terrorize ... thank god I had strong tough boys. I might have overpowered a little girl. But I always thought, if I did have one, that I would have loved her to turn out just like you. With a bit of Sara thrown in." Both Chloe and Doris smiled at that thought. "And well, I was kind of hoping you two ... would be sort of a package deal, meatloaf and mashed potatoes, peanut butter and jelly. Great separately. Better together."
Chloe slouched back into her seat, and this time, Doris didn't comment. She looked sympathetically on the forlorn look upon her favorite redhead's face. She watched as Chloe sighed, and then repeated, tonelessly, Doris' last words. "Better together." Chloe said it one more time, after a moment's pause, this time with a hint of a smile. "Yeah. Better together."
At the check out desk, four frowning and glaring older women stood, arms folded, sentry like and imposing.
Mrs. Hoderman spoke first. "And just where have you been?" she said sternly, squinting at Sara.
"Uh, I got held up ..."
Mrs. Cellone, behind the counter, twitched her face. "The poor little thing has been upset all night. You should have been here." There was a decided tone of accusation in her voice.
"I tried ..."
Naomi Fuller, the pastor's wife, her arms just barely making any kind of a barrier over the expanse of her wide bosom, very unforgivingly said, "Well, 'I tried' just doesn't cut it, does it, Ms. D'Amico?"
"No, I guess not ..."
Bella Stavros, Jeanette's grandmother, had to have her say, too. "She's in her office, with Doris. But if you aren't here to help, you can just turn your butt around right now ..."
Mrs. Hoderman gave her a withering glare. "For almost an hour now. We've been holding down the fort ..."
Sara just dumbly stared at all of them in turn, and felt herself physically and mentally shrinking from the sheer power of their disapproval of her. She lost a good six inches in confidence alone.
"I suppose, if you ladies wouldn't mind, that I should go try and talk to Chloe now ..." She hesitated, not wanting to provoke the tense pack of mother wolves in front of her.
The ladies all turned and looked wordlessly at each other. Helen Hoderman, temporarily putting herself in charge, turned back to look at Sara. "Well, all right, but maybe you should wait until ..."
There was no wait involved; the Alpha Wolf was coming down the hallway from the office and stopped to stand with her cohorts in front of the counter. She eyed Sara, and then walked past her, over to the round table where her coat was. She gathered her things, and waited as her friends walked over and retrieved theirs, too. They then walked, single file, past a stock still Sara, each lowering their eyelids and giving her a distrusting look before they gathered behind her at the front door. Doris was last to cross Sara's path, and she stopped, cocked her gray head at her, and then very deliberately and slowly thumped her umbrella on the floor several times. Sara's eyes widened, and then Doris thumped it, this time with a little more meaning attached. The ladies then silently filed out the door, and Mrs. Cellone locked it behind her.
Sara let out a long sigh, and tried to shake our her tensed muscles. OK, that HAD to be the hard part.
Chloe was still slumped in her swivel chair when she heard a light tap on her door. Oh god, haven't they left yet?
The door opened, and a dark haired woman, with an apologetic look on her face, peeked in. Their eyes met, and Sara gave Chloe a weak smile.
Chloe just stared as Sara slowly walked over to her. Chloe felt weak, tired, angry and extremely relieved to see her beautiful lover.
Sara knelt before her, and gently took Chloe into her arms. Chloe's arms tightened around Sara in response, and then Sara pulled Chloe into a standing position, ever strengthening her embrace, until she was nearly crushing the little librarian with the flow of her love and her sorrow. Chloe responded by returning the power of the hug, and the sentiments therein.
Sara opened her eyes to look down into Chloe's, and what she found there filled her with renewed hope, and an overpowering sense of completeness. She leaned down, and kissed Chloe for all she was worth, and then, once again, and again, wanting it to never stop. Chloe returned each one with an equal fervor, trying to transfer all of her being, all of her feelings into each kiss.
They broke for a moment, still holding each other tightly, and then Sara brushed her lips across Chloe's again. She looked deeply into Chloe's eyes, and was overcome with emotions and desires too strong to hold back, even though they were in the confines of the town's public library.
Sara, "Do you want to take your pants off for me?"
Continued in Part XXVIII
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