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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Chapter 21--In the Wave

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Steve grabs my hand, ignoring my half-finished sandwich. “We’ll go on the ski so all you have to do is hang on tight.” He’s speaking more to Daniel than he is to me. I’m not sure why I don’t insist on staying put when he’s so obviously using me. I guess I want to be a little obnoxious, too, to see what Daniel would do to keep me with him. The answer is: nothing.
Riding out, we bounce over the incoming waves, my arms in a vice grip around Steve’s waist. It’s like hanging onto a steel pole. There isn’t a single inch of flab or soft skin, just muscle, rock solid, almost difficult to think of as part of a human. About the time I think my head’s going to snap off from all that bouncing we arrive at the trough of peaceful water that sits alongside the break. This is where surfers line up waiting for the right wave, Steve explains.
He idles the Jet Ski and we sit, gently rocking in the current, watching the waves roll in, gathering lumps from completely calm water until the lumps rise and crest and rumble forward toward their collapse.
It’s quite a thing being a few feet away from all that power. I don’t understand how it works or where it comes from but I feel it inside me, the proximity of danger just waiting to reach out and suck me into its clutches just like someday the Vanguard will find me and I’ll face judgement.
Or maybe I’ll stay here forever on this little strip of calm beside the break, aware but safe. I enjoy the waves for only a few minutes before my mind wanders back to the beach and I ask what he and Riley were arguing about.
“Arguing?” Like he’s already forgotten.
“You’re irritated.”
“I’m tired of Dan making excuses. He just needs to get over himself and do it.”
He hesitates. “Mom isn’t going to keep Poppy here anymore. She wants one of her friends to move in while she’s doing her recovery thing.”
“Poppy doesn’t live with you?”
“Are you kidding? A kid at our place?” He laughs. “Hey, that looks like a good one.”
“Good one for what?”
“Wife, today you’re going to fly. Ready?”
“Hang on.”
We leave the safety of the trench and maneuver into position between the incoming waves. Probably there is a lot of technical information I’m not aware of that Steve is calculating in order to do what he’s about to do but all I know is we’re in the line of fire. About where we were idling a minute or two ago there was a rising mound of water. Here it comes again. It tilts us sideways and passes as Steve shifts the engine and speeds forward to catch it.
Rise, rise, rise, I’m pretty sure the air even gets colder whistling around my ears. Suddenly we’re at the top, end of the ride. The ski plunges nose first down the face of the wave, skidding a little, having trouble gripping the water as its going one direction and we’re going another with my stomach in my throat.
At the bottom, Steve straightens out and gains traction running parallel to the wave, at times tilting up into it. The sun disappears. I raise my hands with my eyes and watch stupefied as the wave crests and tunnels over us. On one side a roaring grey wall surges upward. On the other, not quite blocking out my view of the beach, feathery, throat-clogging, white falls with increasing speed, chasing us.
My lifted fingers catch the ceiling and are thrust along the trajectory of the surge, I almost lose my balance pulling them in. It lasts hours, or minutes, I’m not sure. This place defies an application of our limited human understanding. The lines we cut to make the universe feasible to our small lives. Here a human can be caught up and carried without a thought. There’s nothing to stop this power from shifting beneath the ski and swallowing us whole.
It isn’t a monster, or an unspeakable evil, but unadulterated energy, a life force surrounding me without any thought to consider its actions or debate right or wrong. If it consumes me nothing will change. I cannot help but laugh one moment and scream the next knowing there is nothing to control, I am merely here, weightless, soaring, with the ocean beside, above, and behind, reaching to take me in.
The ski shoots out of the tunnel just before the crest collapses in on itself. I’m breathless, not even able to see properly as my blood scatters through its veins unable to tell where it should be going, surprised by the reintroduction of gravity.
I drag myself up the beach, not even far enough that my feet are out of the water. I forget to care that I’m gathering sand in my hair like the tongs of a mop. I don’t realize one of my breasts has come free of its cup until Mrs. Helston points it out. Even then, my embarrassment is muted by the rush of elation coursing through me.
“Jane, suit check!” she calls from her encampment further up the beach. I stagger up surprised she’s alone. To my questioning look she replies, “Daniel took Poppy home. She has her piano lesson in an hour.”
This explains the mysterious presence of that keyboard in the living room.
“It was Daniel’s idea, the lessons,” says Mrs. Helston. “Obviously we don’t normally go in for that kind of thing. But variety is good I suppose in case something doesn’t work out….” She trails off, her eyes distant, seeing an alternative past.
“Anyhow, it’s over and done with now. The important thing is to move on. What are we going to do about this husband of yours? Is there a past history of violence? I’m sure a restraining order isn’t too hard to get.”
“It’s not that. He’s not violent with me. It just didn’t work out.”
“So divorce him. Although breaking into your condo when you’ve been apart five years could still be grounds for a restraining order. I’ve had one or two of those in my time. It’s nice for a woman to know she’s still got what it takes to drive a man insane, right?”
“I guess.”
Riley is back on the water surfing with Steve on the Jet Ski. Even from this distance I can tell they aren’t talking. One might as easily not be there for all the attention the other pays. He zooms with his tail of water and churning foam trailing behind. She glides, a silent, effortless joining with the waves.
“With a divorce I think you’d have to go back to the state that married you or something like that.”
“I’m never going back.”
Mrs. Helston arches a considering eyebrow of surprise at my vehemence. “Well I’m sure you have your reasons. But a man who breaks into your house...you can’t run from that forever.”
I can try. But yes, now that Brandon, or someone, has come this close, several long avoided questions are unavoidable. The primary one being, how far will I go?
“I’ve done some things I’m not proud of. The people back home…it’s like I’m a criminal and if I go back I’m not sure what they’ll do.”
Mrs. Helston scoots toward me with eyes widened by curiosity. She wants the juicy details but I can’t imagine how she would understand. In her world what I did is what any woman might have done as her prerogative. I finger the necklace Brandon gave me.
“I married the wrong man.”
“Dearie, that’s not a crime.”
There are many kinds of crimes but Mrs. Helston isn’t the kind of person to get into that kind of discussion with. I put her off until it’s time to go back to the house. Thinking about home has made me lonely. It’s harder to feel any kind of belonging among the Helston’s with that other world pulled so vividly to the forefront. By comparison, they feel so simple, so careless of their actions, not burdened with the responsibilities of faith. I will never be like them; God is too real, Satan too close. Steve would have a good laugh if he knew what I think about.
Daniel is up guarding the third floor tower. At first I think I’ll go up and join him. The quiet solitude is appealing and I wonder about that room with all the pillows. No one seems to use it much. It’s another one of those things about the house that feels out of synch. But I worry Daniel sits there because he wants to be alone. I shouldn’t bother him. Maybe he’s there to escape me.
I cover my isolation by playing the piano, feeling an entirely new connection to the music since spying on yesterday’s recording session. I have my headphones plugged into my phone listening to the music as I play. I don’t hear the doorbell.
When Mrs. Helston lays her hand on my shoulder I worry I’m too loud and adjust the keyboard volume, then I notice two policemen standing in the front entryway, dripping because it’s started raining again.
“They want to ask you some questions.”

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Chapter 20--James Horner

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“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.”
“James Horner?”
“Sounds right.”
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.”

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Chapter 19--Hollywood

Today Mrs. Helston wants me out of the house. She’s having friends over and she doesn’t want to introduce me to anyone who might gossip. What this probably means is Mrs. Helston wants to be able to drink alcohol without my disapproving presence. Though she’s unlikely to want me around anyway, Riley is at work so I’m packed off to Studio City with Steve and Daniel to take promotional photos for their new movie.
Since the day of the giant spider they haven’t really been getting along. I’m not sure what normal looks like for them but it’s a sure bet to say Steve puts on a good face even when he’s pissed while Daniel just looks like he expects everyone and their dog to become an enemy at any moment.
What do I do stuck between them? What anyone would do: take the easy road of Steve while trying to pretend Daniel isn’t lurking in the background. Nevertheless my ulterior woman remains highly-attuned to Daniel’s presence. She twitches every time he moves, but she remains hidden while I bask in Steve’s undivided attention. He shows me around the studio. We even walk through some of the sets that will be used for the movie once they’re done shooting in Hawaii. We go quite a ways before my ulterior self tells me we’ve lost Daniel.
“He probably went straight to the dressing room. He doesn’t like being seen.”
“Even here?”
“I didn’t say it was logical.”
Without any apparent schedule, Steve continues touring me around. We stop to chat with people he knows. Steve knows everyone. Even the handicapped man who mows the lawn in front of the offices.
We eventually arrive in the dressing room to find two stylists and the movie’s continuity expert waiting for him. They’ve been waiting almost forty-five minutes. With Steve in a chair before a mirror rimmed with light bulbs, hairstyles are tried, a middle vs side part, extensions, highlights? Some errand running lackey keeps popping in to remind them the photographer is waiting.
Steve changes into a tank top and super short seventies style shorts. We move down the hall to a room set up with white and blue and green backdrops bathed in light. Daniel stands in front of one patiently following the photographer’s directions, profile looking down, looking into the camera, looking out, and so on. The beard is gone, the shaggy hair shaped into a preppy crew cut. He wears a polo shirt similar to those my dad wore when he attended seminary. I’m a little sad to see the end of the creeper mountain man look. It suited Daniel’s disposition. Looking like a respectable youth of the bright and sunny seventies while brooding and making everyone uneasy just doesn’t match.
“He looks good, doesn’t he?” Steve stands a little too close leaning down into my ear.
“This movie must not be very subtle in its contrasts.”
“They want something to appeal to everyone.”
“Which do you like better? You know, I think we’re doing shirtless shots today.”
I step away. Personal bubble, please mind the bubble. “Uh, good? What should I do?”
“Stand there and look beautiful.” He grins. “Actually, I have an idea, hang on.” He trots over to the stylist who wanted to highlight Steve’s hair in nutmeg and honey. When I say ‘trots,’ that’s really what I mean. He’s a kid in a room full of adults, but he’s in charge. While they’re all serious, trying to work, he’s bouncing around chatting, trying to make Daniel crack up while he’s giving a serious seductive face to the camera, winking at a woman in a power suit armed with two iPhones.
When Daniel’s close-ups are done, the brothers are shot together, frontal, sideways, posed as though surfing side by side, looking at each other, back to back, the positions are exhausting. Snap, snap, snap, the camera captures every inflection, every adjustment of tired muscles, every moment of doubt.
The stylist introduces herself as Chris. “So you’re friends with Daniel?” She says this with the undertone of knowing exactly what kind of ‘friends’ we are. Maybe she can enlighten me. We walk back to the dressing rooms, not the same one we were in before. She sits me down in front of that glowing mirror. “Is there anything you have in mind?”
“What do you mean?”
She drapes a plastic sheet around me. “For your hair? Or may I just go at it?”
Go at my hair? I take a few deep calming breaths. It’s hard to get used to seeing my face in that mirror, lit up so all the shadows are gone, every line or blemish on my skin highlighted, nothing hidden. I remember the sneaky way Steve whispered in Chris’ ear while looking at me. This is his fault. But it is also the first day of my new life, why not have new hair? “Whatever you like,” I say. Cherished words to an artist. Chris dives into my head like she’s sat down to a Thanksgiving feast.
In less than an hour I am a new woman. My shoulder-length drapery has been shaped into wavy layers curving around the shape of my head, the longest sections curling just past my earlobes. I have to check a couple times to make sure this is me. I never really thought about it before but I have a neck, and it’s a nice one.
Chris wants to move on to makeup but I’m not ready for that much change all at once. Makeup sets expectations. Hair, I can do, its honest. Makeup is a life sentence.
Parts of my hair wave around when I walk. The air is open on my neck, so weird. I can’t keep back the bounce in my step as I walk back into the studio. Steve is going through his solo shots but he breaks pose as soon as I enter, exclaiming, “There she is! Gorgeous. I knew Chris wouldn’t let me down.”
Several of the staffers hanging around who didn’t so much as glance at me before turn to pay compliments. They, the lowly assistants, take the opportunity to creep one step closer to the Helston star by introducing themselves. Two even give me their cards and say they’d love to have me sit for a shoot.
Seeing more staffers coming my way, I withdraw to the corner where Daniel lounges on empty equipment boxes eating a bag of vending machine pretzels. He offers me one.
“Do they actually expect me to pass these along to Steve?”
“They hope, but most people don’t unless someone made an impression.” This is the most I’ve heard him speak in the past three days. It gets even better when he adds, “Bet you can’t guess what I’m thinking about right now.”
I laugh, thrilled that he’s talking to me like a normal person and not because he has to. I consider his new profile cut clean and sharp against the blue backdrop on the side wall.
“Give me a hint.”
French. It only takes a moment to come to me. “A woman who changes her hair is about to change her life, Coco Avant Channel.”
Daniel offers me another pretzel as a prize. He’s pleased but you have to look hard to see it, a softened expression, less guarded.
He’s referenced New York and survived. No sight of an oncoming panic attack. This gives me hope. Maybe he doesn’t really hate me. Maybe I’ve been too stressed out to read the signals correctly.
Our quite time hiding out in the corner together ends too soon as Steve saunters over wiping sweat and makeup off his face.
“Food time, thank god.”
“We have to pick up the phone,” Daniel reminds him.
“Phone, then lunch.” Steve grabs my hand and pulls me up. “Maybe we should find you a stylin’ outfit to go with that hair.”
“She’s fine,” says Daniel.
“Yeah, but if that pest from Delco’s is there today, she might want to….” He stops because Daniel is glaring at him. I’m not really sure why. It’s nice being taken around with them, similar to being the third wheel with Tommy and Brandon, but when they spoke in code I could figure it out. With the Helstons, I’m on the outside watching them talk about me without knowing what they’re saying. With it comes this layer of animosity radiating off Daniel that feels alternately directed at me, at Steve, and at the world. Maybe animosity isn’t the right word but there’s something.
The phone on our errand list turns out to be my phone, fully repaired with a new screen and fifteen missed alerts. Steve holds it over my head. “Now, you’re only allowed to call the good guys with this, understand?” A joke that isn’t funny because he doesn’t know. He thinks he’s referring to an estranged husband, not the organization responsible for Daniel’s kidnapping. What would Steve do if he knew? He wouldn’t be as calm as Daniel, even though ‘calm’ with Daniel is questionable.
Our lunch spot is a bistro on Wilshire, presumably a place where my cut off shorts and sweatshirt are not part of the dress code. When we arrive there’s a crowd blocking the door, blocking the sidewalk, and a lane of traffic. Daniel jams his ball cap on his head. “Let’s find somewhere else.”
“I’ll just run in,” says Steve.
“How about no.”
But Steve’s already out of the car wading into the mass of well-behaved Japanese tourists, photographers, and some normal people like me who probably just want to eat lunch. Just like at the bar, the wave of recognition radiates outward from Steve, almost head and shoulders above everyone else. He waves, he poses, he kisses an Asian woman on the cheek.
“He loves it doesn’t he?”
“He thinks people were created to love him.” Daniel pulls around the block. He drives with one hand, the other clenched around a water bottle which he drinks from every few seconds.
Three times we circle the block before Steve reemerges carrying two take out bags. The clicking of smart phone cameras follow him like insects.
“Get down!” Daniel reaches back, grabs my arm and yanks me down across the bench. “Don’t get up until I say.”
“Mission accomplished,” says Steve. “They were all there to see Meryl Streep. Look, she gave me her autograph.”
“Do you remember when we talked about not drawing attention today?”
“Nope. Was that one of those arguments you had with yourself? Wait, what is she doing down there?”
“I said, we weren’t going to have her caught in any pictures with us.”
“Accidents happen.”
Daniel slams on the breaks just short of running a red light. “Just take me seriously for once, okay? You don’t want her in pictures with you. She’s dangerous.”
He hasn’t forgotten. I’m dangerous.
In a parking lot with a security guard we eat sandwiches. I have one, they have four a piece. Daniel keeps checking his watch.
“You’re going to be late.”
“We’re fine.”
“Do you know where you’re going?”
“It takes at least ten—”
“Fine. Fine, we’re going. Come on runaway wife, let’s leave the mope to his water bottle.”
“Where are we going?”
“In here.” Steve holds open a door.
“Daniel’s not coming?”
“He’s in hiding.” Steve takes my hand to navigate a series of desolate dimly-lit hallways. I don’t mind the holding hands thing except that it feels like he’s making a statement with it.