“Do you know where we’re going?”
We walk up a short set of stairs and come to a stop in front of three unmarked doors. Steve opens one, closet. I open the one in the middle not at all sure why we’re here or what I should be looking for. Part of me half expects the flash of a camera beaming my face, along with Steve’s, onto the Internet in less than a minute. Brandon would only see it if he was searching the Helstons. He’d have no reason to do that. Logic says I’m perfectly safe. But rational thinking doesn’t make the nervous twitch of reflexes on edge settle down.
I venture through the door and find myself on a walkway with one side a wall, the other side looking onto a room below. Music plays but it’s not a recording being fed through speakers, the sound is warmer, more vibrant.
The floor below is covered with an orchestra overshadowed by a giant projection screen playing raw footage of a movie I don’t recognize. A movie that hasn’t been released yet I realize. They’re scoring it. Dude.
Positively stupefied with surprise, I sink to the floor and press my face between the railing bars. At the same time, the music picks up tempo, a rising crescendo of urgent, circling, violins propel the action forward as an actor runs onscreen, filled with purpose. The music tells me how to feel about the scene. It guides emotions without the aid of words. The circling upper strings collide with the lumbering lower strings harping sharp tones of dissonance, a contrapuntal warning that, even as the hero onscreen runs forward, his way is not without danger.
Standing on a raised platform in the center of the half-circle of musicians, the conductor guides each section into their cue with one eye on the screen to match what he hears with what he sees. It occurs to me, the conductor must also be the composer, maybe even one whose work I have written into my heart and the muscle memory of my fingers.
I turn to Steve sitting beside me but with his back against the railing. He’s watching a woman in the sound booth, trying to catch her eye. “Do you know who that is?” I whisper.
“Yeah, sure, it’ll come to me. Uh...James something—you’ll have to ask Dan.”
So this is what it looks like to create a movie score. James Horner is down there bringing music to life that I might buy on a CD in a few months. It’s happening right now before my eyes.
It was Daniel’s idea.
We leave when the orchestra takes a break to listen to the playback. James Horner comes our direction, heading for the sound booth. I jump to my feet and run for the door. I can’t talk to him, I don’t know what I’d say he hasn’t heard a million times. Mr. Horner, I’m a huge fan of your work. Ugh, gag me now! It’s enough to have been here and seen it.
You’re probably not sharing my enthusiasm as I run through those cavernous hallways with my heart in my throat trying to leap out of my mouth with song—not words—melodies, ready to burst from my chest. It’s not like movie music is ever going to be as universal as Beethoven’s Ninth or Pachelbel’s Cannon. Maybe, maybe not. But I’d take a bet that more people identify the theme from Star Wars than the Ninth. I know it and I still haven’t seen the movies. Film music, as opposed to the classical standards I learned my piano technique from, is alive, and part of our culture, its evolving and growing and pushing boundaries.
Think of action movies in the nineties compared with what they are now. Before there were lots of Mars God of War Holst triplets and fast march tempos with tight linear melodies. Then came Batman, a low basso continuo static to maintain tension, the source sounds becoming indistinct, with melodic phrasing taking a back seat to texture that grows and fades and drives the beat forward. Batman-esque is now heard influencing almost every action movie score. I say ‘almost’ to allow for margins of creativity and because I haven’t heard all of them.
The momentum of my running enthusiasm carries me right into the Prius, smack! Good thing, Daniel saw me coming. “That was amazing! They’re recording right now, like for a movie, at this very minute. I never thought I’d actually get to see one being created.” Breathe, breathe, “Thank you.”
Daniel shrugs like it’s no big deal but he’s pleased. Some of that built-up tension from the Bistro eases out of his shoulders. Maybe it would have faded completely without Steve’s return. He’s captured the number of the girl from the sound booth.
Los Angeles, California October 3rd Friday
The storm has moved on. Even though the waves are still a little rough, the sun has returned to burn off the chill. To celebrate, we’re having a picnic on the beach up by the break where Steve nearly killed himself the other day. I guess Steve, Riley, and Daniel are flying to Hawaii next week to begin the new movie so this is a kind of parting family get-together plus one.
I’ve been given a bikini, my first. It’s incredibly distracting. I can’t have a conversation with anyone without wondering if they’re looking at my newly-exposed skin, the junk foodie tummy, the breasts. I don’t really know how to qualify breasts. I mean, how do I know if they’re the good kind or not? It’s like being in a Twilight Zone of adolescence asking all these questions I’ve never thought about until now. Brandon never had anything to say about my body, let alone my breasts. He might have touched them once on accident.
Even on the beach, Daniel wears pants and long sleeves. He sits with me like he did at the photo shoot, casual, as though there’s no ten-foot cinderblock wall built between us. Occasionally he shares whatever he’s eating, chips, Poppy’s frosted animal crackers. He doesn’t say much but I don’t know if that’s him or because Mrs. Helston says enough for everyone. She sits on my other side keeping up lively descriptions of her water-related accidents while we watch Steve and Riley out in the surf with Poppy.
“She’s a natural,” says Mrs. Helston, “Just like Daniel, except Daniel was up on a board as soon as he could walk.” She smiles with reminiscence that has a bitter twinge to it. I wonder if she feels all that talent has been wasted. She reminds me Daniel’s original plan was acting on the side as a way to fund surfing. Steve was the actor. Probably she had wanted to keep Daniel closer, in her world rather than Hollywood. It’s weird for me to realize anyone could be disappointed with Daniel, especially his mother. Just sitting next to him, my skin buzzes and flares to red alert anytime he leans or reaches toward me.
I scan the beach for the third or fourth time in an hour. I turn and cover the beach access and dunes behind us. There are very few people out, enough that I can tell almost immediately if anyone is out of place. Did Brandon break into my condo or did he have someone local do it? I ask knowing there isn’t going to be an answer until I see him walking down the beach searching for me. I have to remind myself no one can possibly know I’m with the Helstons. Even reporters don’t know where the Helston’s are right now. One minute I feel safe. The next I fall back into worry. They’ll be busy setting up the next trial. They don’t have time to worry about me. And yet, I have no way of being certain, no assured safety.
Poppy rides a wave into the beach on her belly, rolling onto the sand, laughing. She wants Mrs. Helston’s opinion on her riding. Does she have good technique? Did she see the hang ten? Her parents are slower to arrive. As they come out of the white water, Riley leading, Steve following, trying to catch up, it’s apparent they’re having a fight.
“Would you just stop and look at me?” Steve’s grabs Riley wetsuit sleeve and forcibly turns her. “It isn’t going to go away.”
“Fuck off.” She jerks away, stomping into our picnic circle with water droplets flying.
Poppy’s smile fades. She knows what they’re arguing about. She sits beside Daniel balancing her food on his knee. “Can I live at your house when school starts?” she whispers.
“Here we all are,” says Mrs. Helston. “Jim would laugh at us. A picnic in October, but you can’t beat this weather.”
Daniel draws Steve’s eyes across our circle. Their silent communication is brief and to the point, an old argument. Daniel hands Poppy her sandwich. “Go sit with your mom, okay? I need to stretch out.” Even with this excuse, she’s disappointed. She kicks up sand as she moves.
“I want to live with Daniel. He likes me.” She pouts.
“Dan’s got too many problems to entertain you all year,” says Steve.
“He doesn’t have problems.”
“He does. He’s afraid of surfing.”
Poppy adamantly shakes her head. “Is not. Uncle Dan’s a great surfer.”
Again, Steve sends silent messages with his eyes while he talks. “If you got into trouble out there he wouldn’t even come get you.”
This kernel of doubt is enough to trouble the girl. Crestfallen she looks to Daniel for an answer.
“Steven, you should eat another sandwich,” says Mrs. Helston. She glances between her sons as uncertainly as Poppy.
“Fear can be a good thing,” says Daniel. “People who aren’t afraid…sometimes they make very stupid decisions. They don’t have any respect.”
Steve stands as though to cut Daniel off before he says anything else. “How about a ride out, runaway nurse? I’ll show you how it’s done.”