Nanowrimo.org novel, in progress- 50,000 words in 30 days.
Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4
At 73 mph, her car stalled. Liz turned the ignition and the engine caught, silent almost as the noise from the wind filled her Civic. She felt stabbing pain in the back of her eye as they slowly adjusted to the headlights drawing patterns on each broad sweep of 280. Oak trees, squat and wide on the side of the road, woke up in her headlights, shocked at the interruption. Or, used to it, like hookers on Larkin, used to the attention all night, every fifteen minutes or so. 2am heading north to San Francisco, she sang loudly to stay awake. Nirvana, Polly Wants a Cracker, thinking of Courtney Love and prostitution. It was all so grim. The car stalled two times more on the way home. Each exit was a story in her mind, nostalgia, memories, hopes, dreams, just exits, she reminded herself, everything is not a story about ME. But the examined life, she replied to herself.
Next morning she walked up to Bob’s Auto Shop, intending to talk to John, the owner. Nobody ever explained who Bob was. Guy working on the cars didn’t speak English, and her Chinese was child-like, so they just smiled and she issued little sayings. John here? When back? Car stalls. Tomorrow? OK 4pm. She wanted a reward for having a Chinese conversation. A gold star, or maybe a chocolate bar. She hopped on the 1 California bus downtown.
Slipping into a meeting she had forgotten about, she relaxed, each muscle sinking into the ergonomic chair, her hands folding around a hot cup of tea. Corporate droning voices soothed her like a high priced spa. She was home, Fred curled up against her, she felt his arms reach around…
“Liz?” Melanie, her boss asked from the PowerPoint.
Liz looked up and saw all the faces around the conference table turned towards her. “Right, I was just wanting to say something, earlier …” she droned on about a thought she had in the shower that morning.
Melanie, and the others, listened, and continued on the topic they had started beforehand. Afterwards, Liz and Melanie stood outside the building at the espresso stand.
“What’s this?” Melanie flicked at Liz’s shirt.
“I don’t know, grease? Went to the mechanic this morning. My car keeps stalling.”
Melanie rolled her eyes. “Please tell me at least there’s someone hot at your mechanic.”
Liz thought of the Chinese guy, he was tall, had spiky hair, from grease not hairspray, and a kind of big goofy smile. “Even if the mechanic was hot, I sound like a 4-year-old in Chinese.”
“You talk to your mechanic in Chinese.”
“I admit, I can’t understand him, but what do you say to a mechanic? The same things each time. I swear, the more I learn a language, the more I realize how much we communicate without language. Look at you, just your eyebrows say everything.”
Melanie arched a brow, furrowed her brow, then moved her brows like Groucho Marx. “That’s it, that’s all I can do.”
Liz laughed, then spit out her latte. “Outh, I burned my thonge. Fuck.”
“Don’t forget, we’re going to dinner with the Aspert team tonight.” Melanie started walking back to their office in Embarcadero One. “Made reservations at Slanted Door.”
Liz tucked her wallet into her purse and jostled it onto her shoulder. “That’ll be nice. I love it when the company picks up the bill.”
“What are you, still in high school? We have to waste five hours of our precious family time to talk to overweight, boring guys from the MidWest about their kids’ soccer practice, and trends in the industry. I’d rather have a hot poker shoved into my…”
Liz put a hand up. “I got the picture. I’m just saying I don’t usually go to places like Slanted Door on my paltry copywriting salary.”
“Cry me a river.”
Their heels clacked loudly on the tile, as they made their way past coffees hops, boutiques, sunglasses stores and other shops in the outdoor mall.
“Of course, they could be cute…” Melanie said. She spoke in a quieter voice. “When Jack,” that was their boss, “came back from Europe he had all of these stories about this guy who took them out on the town in Paris, and something, if I remember, about a Russian mob connection, or was it art dealing? Something really jetset. I have no idea who these guys are, but I can’t imagine a world freight consolidation company having anyone cool actually working at it, much the less being in a position of authority to hire an ad firm.”
Finally they reached the elevator area.
Liz started at her reflection in the elevator wall. “Why is it that whenever there’s a sitcom about a woman who is at a job, it’s always an ad firm? Don’t they know there’s other kinds of work out there?”
The doors started to close, when one perfect manicured, almost frosted man’s hand slipped between the doors and triggered them to open again. Another guy followed the first in. They were wearing striped shirts, suit coats, and bags. A dark-haired guy next to Liz was speaking with the blond guy.
“Let’s hope they don’t take us to House of Prime Rib, or some kind of surf and turf. I bet they think we’re mafia and want some kind of scotch on the rocks, topless waitress, and a blowjob before bedtime. God I hate these dog and pony shows. Why do they send me? I’m going to be sleeping in the next five minutes as they tell me how to change the way we’re doing business. Like we’ve never thought for a moment about how do sell our own shit.”
Liz could see Melanie blushing in the reflective walls of the elevator. The blond man spoke up.
“RC, didn’t you ask to be on this trip?”
“To come here with you. To make sure you didn’t do something stupid again.”
“I’m going to pretend you’re talking about,” at this point the doors opened and they filed out. Melanie and Liz didn’t capture the rest of their conversation. Melanie fidgeted with her coffee, stalling.
“I don’t want them to see us go in there.” She pointed at the glass doors of their ad agency. “Just wait here a sec, talk to me like we’re having an intense conversation.”
“Yes, we are. Interesting. Intense. Yes.”
The blond guy shot the women a look as they entered the double doors. Liz saw them talk to the receptionist, then sit down in chairs, waiting as the receptionist was probably calling Melanie’s desk. “You have to go inthere, they’re not going to go away. You can do it. Be strong.”
Melanie sighed and walked in, past the chairs, to their desks beyond the partition. Liz followed her.
Liz patted Melanie on the back. “Don’t worry about it, that dark-haired one is just an asshole. Full of himself. Let it go. You’ll be fine.”
“OMG, that is the one Jack was talking about!” She pinched Liz painfully on the arm, and started re-applying her lipstick and fluffing her hair. “Tonight is going to be fun! That blond guy was cute, don’t you think? Like a young Matthew McCoughnahey. Get those packets from the printer, and bring them to the big conference room in 10, OK?”
Liz went back to her cube, got a pad and pen, and then went to the mail room to check on the box. It wasn’t there. She called her friend at the printing shop and he told her they thought she was going to pick it up. She ran out the door, down the elevator and across Sacramento Street. Raul, a nice guy who manned the print shop during lunch hours, was standing outside smoking. “Sorry babe, I thought you were gonna pick it up.”
“Maybe I was, I can’t remember. Oh well, this is it? Thanks.” She scribbled her signature and grabbed a box by the door. She hoisted it up on her hip and crossed the small road full of taxis, queued up to head into Chinatown. Her arms ached as she held it in the elevator, propping it against the mirrored wall. She was sweating, her face was hot, her shirt still had grease mark on it, and in general she looked rumpled and exhausted. Driving up from the south bay in the early morning hours didn’t help her complexion, either. Bags under her eyes, pale, and her brown hair was looking more stringy and greasy by the minute.
She dropped the box near the receptionist, grabbed ten of the kits and ran to the conference room. Melanie was in fine form, legs crossed and foot dangling out while the two guys looked kind of bored, spending more time staring out the window at the Bay than at Melanie’s efforts.
“There she is. I thought you took off for Vegas!” Melanie laughed at her own joke, and Liz distributed the packets around.
“Gentlemen, I’d walk you through this but I’m sure you know how to sell your own product.” She winked at them.
Liz sat back at her place, and the room started to fill with other creative sources from the team. She had a time to sneak glances at the guys from the elevator, who were turned to watch a short PowerPoint presentation Melanie was leading, in the darkened room. The dark-haired guy looked at her- she had found out his name at this point, RC Patterson. Johnny Cook was the blond. RC turned away from her and looked back at the screen. There was some word for him, it was on the tip of her tongue. Some word that would just nail his personality to a T.
Melanie was right, Johnny had a Matthew McCoughnay look about him. Kind of rugged, wide face, and messy unruly hair like he didn’t use product and spent a lot of time outdoors. RC looked really anal and stuck-up. That was the word. Anal sounded too conservative and buttoned-up. But stuck-up was just right. She hadn’t used that word stuck-up since junior high when they used it with such abandon like we use “like” today. Everyone was stuck-up. In fact it was so overused, she couldn’t think now what it meant then. Sure, nowadays she’s using it to mean, well, conceited perhaps, arrogant, full of yourself. In this new day of modern psycho-babble, and the inner child, being a confident woman at work, knowing your worth in an Oprah-esque way, being your own champion, in all that everyone was to a degree stuck-up. But this guy was old fashioned junior high meaning stuck-up. He thought he was so cool. Too cool for school.
Someone flicked the lights on and they all blinked in the glare. Another person opened up the big view windows.
“Shall we take a short break? Meet back here in 20?” Melanie smiled at the guys, and people started filing out of the room. RC stood and stretched, and Johnny smiled at Melanie. “So, what do you guys do for fun around here?”
Melanie giggled. “Do you guys like wine? There’s a wine bar right nearby.”
Johnny looked at his watch. “Think we can wrap up by 7? I’ve got a family obligation at the Hyatt then.”
RC leaned back in his chair. “Yes, we have to get over to, um, Jones by 8, too.”
Melanie laughed quickly, “Well I guess we won’t be taking you to dinner then? I have reservations at Slanted Door.”
Johnny smiled, “Maybe tomorrow night? I just have a few meetings with friends here in town tonight, but I’d love tomorrow.”
Melanie smiled, and agreed. Liz started cleaning up the table of empty cups and papers. Why do her coworkers leave their stuff, knowing she’s the one to clean it up? She wanted to leave it all here, but didn’t want these guys to think they ran a messy shop.
Melanie grabbed her cell phone, “If you’ll excuse me gentlmen,” and she left to return some calls. Liz left to visit the bathroom. When she came back, she was around the corner from the conference room, and heard them talking.
“The brunette one is about as much a mess as the blond. You know what they say about women here, there are no straight guys left, so they’re all totally desperate. ” Mr. Stuck-up was the source of this gem, and as Liz entered the room she gave him a long low look.
Johnny leaned across the table, “So, Liz was it? Where do you live around here?”
“Mission- it’s a neighborhood a few miles away.”
“Is it near Pacific Heights?”
“My aunt lives over there. We used to visit her each year. That hill, Fillmore, that’s really intense. We heard about Mosely skiing off that. Did you see it? Intense.”
“Yeah, that was kinda cool. Weird thing is, it was hard for him to do it because the insurance was so high on all of those houses and he had to get it together before his birthday. Some lady was having a wedding up on Broadway and didn’t want the closure all along the stret. She went on the radio and was a real Bridezilla. Anyways, it was funny kind of news story at the time.”
While she was telling Johnny this story, she couldn’t help but feel that RC was boring holes in her with his eyes. She hated that trite expression, but there was no other way to say it. He was really intense. It unsettled her and she wanted to leave the room. But Melanie was back and they were back on topic about the upcoming sales campaign. Liz doodled on her pad and let her mind wander. Finally it was 5 and they wrapped up, heading over to the wine bar.
Johnny caught up with Melanie and they giggled about something Liz didn’t catch. That left her behind with RC.
“So what does RC stand for?”
“Are you happy at Cleinston Winthrop?”
“It’s a good job. I like working with Melanie. You?”
He smiled quietly. “I like it fine.”
Pompous ass, she thought to herself. They walked into Wine and sat on little square cushions. Melanie ordered a flight of white and red, and they shared wine glasses. Johnny and Melanie joking about their various trips to Aspen and Vail. The closest Liz had been to skiing was seeing the snow for the first time off I-80 in Tahoe, on a trip with her parents when she was 10. RC seemed equally quiet. Finally it rolled around to 7 and Johnny and RC took off for their “family meetings.”
Melanie smiled at Johnny’s departing back and Liz finished off her glass of Pinot Noir. “I think I’m going to go. I only got about four hours of sleep last night.”
“He is really amazing. So energetic, and nice.”
Energetic? Liz groaned.
“Come on, stay with me for another glass.” Melanie’s cheeks were rosy and Liz wondered if it would stop at one more glass.
“Sorry, I really have to go. I’m totaly wiped. I only got four hours of sleep.”
Melanie sighed. “Well have a half a glass with me. Please.”
Liz sucked it up. “OK.”
“He’s just the right man for me. So strong, and cheerful. And I can really tell he likes me. It’ll be great, he can move here and we can…”
Liz put her hand up. “Woah. Come on. You’re going into that whole over-imagined dreamland before you even know the guy. He could be married. He could be hung up on his high school sweetheart. He could be… gay.”
Melanie’s eyes opened wide. “Do you think he’s gay?”
“But that RC guy, not really, well, he seems kind of uptight.”
“Surf and turf. Say no more. He actually said that, like two women living in SF would consider eating that, without irony.”
“I mean, come on. He is so metrosexual too, that combed pompadour, and that all black outfit, like he’s Armani or something. Right out of an Ugly Betty set. I mean, whatever. How are we going to deal with him all dinner tomorrow? Should we take him to House of Prime Rib?”
“No, we can’t!” The way Melanie said it made sure that Liz would regret even suggesting the option.
“You can’t do that to poor Johnny, you like him!”
“He’ll survive. If he doesn’t understand my humor from that, there may be no future that is worth having!” Melanie fluffed her hair, and they headed out into the cold.
“Ciao bella.” Melanie kissed both of Liz’s cheeks and they head off to their respected houses- Melanie to her palace in Pac Heights, thanks to a divorce in her favor, and Liz to her three bedroom palatially large, yet set in a ghetto, flat, thanks to rent control.
“Hey babe, it’s Danielle.” Liz shuffled through her mail while the recording continued. “I’m OK. Just wanted to know how you got up this morning. Work’s OK, nothing major. I’m settling in OK. Met my new boss, and some of the other folks. I’m setting up my kitchen now and unpacking. Isn’t it funny how we all organize our shelves in the same way? But each time mom visits, she puts them in a different way? Anyways, just wanted to say hey, and can I come up and hang this weekend, crash on your couch? I know some cool stuff going on. OK bye.”
Liz noted that of course Dani wouldn’t think of inviting Liz to those “cool things,” but to be honest with herself LIz wasn’t interested in hanging out at 1015 or Suede. Dani liked to wear nothing hang out at these dance clubs, wondering why guys were groping her. It was a certain guy of course- the wrong guy groping her was bad, but the right one groping her was OK. Liz did not understand her sister. The problem with having all this room was that people wanted to constantly crash on her couch.
Liz checked her watch. It was too late to call her Dad. He was probably reading in his living room, listening to NPR, and wouldn’t say that he was bothered by getting a call at night, but she knew he would be a little more hard of hearing and anxious since he was tired, so she decided to call him tomorrow and tell him about this client meeting. Her mom would be up watching TV, but Liz imagined the conversation they would have. Who was wearing what, were they interested in her, all of the romance stuff and none of the fun oddness of it all that her father was so great at picking up, and thinking of witticisms back at her.
Liz hung up her jacket and walked into the kitchen, flipping on lights. She heard classical guitar playing through the walls from her flat-neighbor. Another voicemail filtered through her flat.
“Hi Liz, this is John down at the auto shop. Your car is ready, come pick it up anytime. It’s going to be 700 dollars. We reset the idle time.” And he kept on blabbing about mechanical stuff she didn’t understand.
Liz gulped. She didn’t have 700 dollars. And the bills she got this morning- credit card, student loan bills, gas, electric, and she was still paying off her vacation to India, they sucked up all of her savings as it was. This was really going to suck. She could VISA it but she’d have to remember to pay it off over three months, and she hated doing that. She’d rather just pay it off now and not have the money anymore. It was her own way of budgeting. There were other floating debts out there she put on hold- a few traffic tickets, paying back her sister for some group gifts, friends lending her cash for a dinenr here or a drink there- she felt it all piling up. Weird, in these times she just ended up being more foolish with her money than usual. She may have to sell some stock. She had started saving and investing a few years ago, but if this went on much longer, her inability to fucking budget, then she may as well pay off the credit card and loans and start again. That just made her depressed, at the age of 31 to start over, like a 26-year-old.
That evening passed just as evenings before hand passed for Liz- a quick pasta and salad, watching the news and Seinfeld, then chatting with a friend and crashing around midnight. She woke up early and took the 22 over to her mechanic, picked up the car and ran the total on her VISA. She parked in the work garage, which even though they subsidized partly was still twelve dollars. If she budgeted 5 dollars expense a day, she already blue today, tomorrow, and half of the next day. Free lunches at work consisted of waiting around for some meeting to break up that had ordered pizza and diving in for some cold pieces, which also meant you had to be on speaking terms with the admins that ordered the pizza.
She totally forgot she was going to dinner that night with the client. Well, at least that was one less thing she’d have to pay for in the most expensive city in the country. She was wearing her uniform, brown skirt, heels, and sweater that had an interesting neckline, dipping down on one side and tying high on the other. At her last job they’d clothing swap and she managed to replenish her wardrobe relatively cheaply by just switching various pieces. She stopped by Melanie’s office before lunch.
She was practically glowing. “Johnny called me, he’s wrapping up some stuff and then we’re going to meet for drinks at the Huntington.”
Liz blinked. “The Huntington?” She never got used to the random places people suggested in San Francisco, especially when they were visiting. The Huntington was a snooty, preppy Junior League bar up on Nob Hill, catering to the whiskey sour, Polo types who liked piano-playing bars with light low enough to cover any wrinkles you may have earned in their 80-odd years. “Uh, sure.” She would go non-alcoholic if she had to pay. “Is this on the company tab, or are we just being social?”
Melanie got up and smoothed her skirt. It was expensive and nicely cut, that’s all Liz could tell. “Honey, you haven’t learned the first thing about men if you think that you are paying if they invite you out to drinks.” Melanie lifted a silk pashmina shawl from the back of her chair. “It’s freezing in these offices. Speaking of cold, that friend of his is coming too. I’m not sure why, maybe he has nothing else to do.”
“I’m not surprised, imagine wanting him to tag along all the time. Poor Johnny.”
“So have you talked to him since?”
“Yeah he sent me a few emails and text messages.”
Liz smiled. “You have this amazing effect on guys.”
“No, no, he thinks of me as his mother, or some cougar that’s dying to get my hands on some young jock.”
“Um, no. I caught him checking you out at Wine. He’s definitely under the Melanie mojo. He didn’t seem like a shag’em and bag’em kinda guy.”
Melanie didn’t blush, she didn’t look away from her computer, she just kept typing. “Well, either way, we get the business, or I get a new lover. We’ll see tonight. If he mentions his little girlfriend at home, or if I want to meet his mother and compare gardening tips, we’ll know.”
Liz rolled her eyes and scooted out of Melanie’s office, returning to her cube but first scoring some free candy at the receptionist’s desk. Raul was standing there, thumbing through one of the portfolio packets from yesterday’s meeting.
He grabbed a candy from the dish just as Liz did, and they laughingly grasped hands, looking into each other’s eyes. “Is this a Palmolive commercial?”
He traced the palm of her hand. “I can tell you’ve been washing with Palmolive.”
They laughed, and he gestured at the packet. “You left a few over there, we hadn’t finished collating these. Do you know this Aspert company?”
“Yeah, they’re a new client, well, hopefully. I thin if Melanie lands this she’s,” and she started whispering, “Going to buy a yacht with the bonus.”
“Ah, lifestyles of the rich and the rich.”
Liz laughed. “I guess I thought working here, and being within touching distance would somehow rub off on me!”
“Isn’t that called a salary?”
They laughed some more, and Raul even touched her arm, which she didnt’ automatically shrug away. She didn’t think she’d been that witty, either.
“At least we get the occasional free dinner. Oh shit.” Liz just remembered something.
“My little sister is coming tonight, but I have one of these dinners. Hold on a sec.” She got on her cell phone and called Dani. She wasn’t there but she left a message. “Dani, I’m going to be at work, so come by and pick up my keys. I can’t go to 1015 tonight, we’re doing some client thing. But come get my keys, but then you have to be home by midnight, OK? No different, or else I’m going to be really pissed at you.”
Raul smiled at her. “Ah, family.”
“Usually it’s no problem, but…”
“What, you don’t have plans usually? That’s hard to believe.” He gave her a quick body check with his eyes.
“Raul, are you flirting with me?”
“Could be, I keep my options open.”
She sought some other topic. “So, why were you asking me about Aspert?”
Raul ran a hand through his hair. “Oh man, you wouldn’t believe it. It’s kind of involved. Just tell me, you free for lunch Monday? I’ll take you to a primo Italiano sandwich and I can bore you with my stories of past employers.”
“They were your employers?”
“Well, not quite, but let me warn you: stay away from this RC fella.” Raul was pointing to the “meet the team” section of the portfolio, that was a version of their web site printed. RC’s face was in profile, like he was looking at something a few inches from the camera. It wasn’t a bad photo, but it also didn’t say anything about the person, except, that he didn’t want his personality showing through at all, which was odd for someone not that older than Liz herself.
“That’s going to be hard to do. I’m going out with him tonight.”
Raul shrugged. “Well, I warned you. Anyways, Monday, noon? That redwood grove at the base of the Pyramid.”
“Cool, that’d be fun.” Liz actually thought it’d be fun too. She hoped the meal would be under $5.
Liz worked on random stuff all day, managing to wrap up a few assignments and reviewed a few edits from the marketing workflow, when Melanie IM’d her with an urgent, “Let’s meet in the lobby now!”
Melanie talked a mile a minute as they grabbed purses, took the elevator down to Sacramento,then walked to California Street. They heard the cable car behind them and sprinted a half block to catch it up the very steep hill to the top of Nob Hill. Getting off at the Fairmont, Liz was ready to hang out with RC if only he didn’t talk as much as Melanie. What did Melanie say?
“So then, I asked him, well, where do you want to eat? And he said, …” on and on about Johnny. The good news was that the little flame of love affair had started pretty brilliantly yesterday was still going strong. The bad news is that it looked like Liz was going to have to endure a blow by blow of the entire romance.
The four square blocks of the top of California and Powell were originally built as the original mansions of the four Railroad Barons: Huntington, Stanford, Crocker, and that guy we always forget. “Who is that fourth Railroad Baron we always forget??” Liz asked Melanie.
Melanie just ignored her, which, if Liz remembered, she usually did, and continued.
The bankers from Sacramento were new money to old San Francisco, so they gentrified the hill downtown, Nob Hill, and put on it their huge big blocky mansions. Huntington bar sits at the bottom corner of his hotel, not the original mansion. Crocker Mansion still still stands, but it’s a private club.
Liz and Melanie squinted as they entered the completely dark bar. Stepping down a few steps into the lush carpeted, dark red room, they heard the tinkling of piano keys and subdued voices.
Johnny and RC were way at the back. Liz walked by an older woman complaining about her nice, and petting a toy dog that surprised her by being alive. Melanie walked confidently back, Liz a bit more unsteady as she coudlnt’ adjust to the extreme darkness in the bar.
RC sat stiffly back against a painting of Early California pioneers entering Yosemite. Johnny crossed jean clad legs and sipped a tall beer.
“Don’t you love this place?” He enthused. “Hey, some friends are meeting us here too.”
“Really?” Liz said.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you. Some of Johnny’s friends from college live in San Francisco, so they’re stopping by.”
“Yeah, I’m staying with them.” Johnny lifted up the specialty drinks. “So, what would you like?”
Melanie and Liz ordered their drinks from the waitress and Liz had a chance to lean back and observe the bar. RC still had said nothing, though he did get up slightly when they arrived. You wouldn’t’ even know he was there. He was talking now quietly to Melanie. Johnny was on his cell phone, turned away from them and speaking really quietly. She was impressed with Johnny, he was really mature for his age, ina kind of laid back, confident way. He would probably make a good match for Melanie, help her enjoy her newfound freedom. She had gotten married really young and had worked hard in the last few years to regain the ground she’d lost to her ex-husband, who turned out to be a workaholic Dot Commer, obsessed with not aging, and getting new business deals with up and coming technology.
Johnny got off the phone and looked at RC. “They’re parking now, they’ll be over any minute. Brenda says Hi.” Johnny laughed and told Melanie and Liz, “My sister has had a crush on RC since they were both in Romeo and Juliet at Yale. It’s insane. She’s dated, like, I don’t know, all of these rock stars and she still thinks RC walks on water. Yes, him. Don’t tell her I said this, she’ll kill me if you knew.”
“If I knew what?” A tall woman with long, ironed blond hair and subtle make-up, at least in this light, looked down on their small table. Liz instantly felt shabbily dressed. Her shoes were scuffed and dusty, she hadn’t combed her hair since this morning and was probably getting the greasy lank look, and she probably had a dopish expression on her face of total adoration for this image of beauty.
“Nothing. Let me get you a drink!” Johnny jumped up from his chair and walked off.
“Brenda.” RC stood and kissed her on both cheeks. “This is Melanie, and Liz. They’re from a client we’re working with here in the city.”
“Hi, how are you? That skirt is gorgeous, Melanie. RC you look great. I am totally tired. I was just talking to Chad…” Brenda took RC’s arm and walked off a few feet from the table. Melanie looked at Liz through her lashes.
Johnny came back with a neat vodka. “For Brenda. She says mixers make her fat.”
“Oh Johnny!” Brenda leaned over the back of Melanie’s chair to talk to her brother. “A bunch of us are going to Medjool for dinner. You should take them there!”
Liz groaned inside at yet another random location that people pick in the city. It’s not her city, she chastised herself. Other people have other lives, and like other places, and have other impressions of places. She liked Medjool, it was a middle eastern restaurant in the Mission, with a lovely roof deck. But from Huntington to Medjool. What an expensive cab ride!
“I think we’ll stay around here, if that’s OK.” RC spoke up. This was the most Liz had heard him say since The Elevator Incident. She couldn’t tell if he liked Brenda in return.
They finally piled into a cab and headed to the Mission. To Liz’s relief, the guys did pay the bill. She didn’t even notice that they did it.
Medjool was packed. Liz noticed special nod passed between Brenda and the girl at the door and they went up the elevator to the roof. A pitcher of mojitos arrived with glasses.
“Brenda you always do this.”
“It’s my favorite! You have to join in.” She swigged from her tumbler and leaned into Melanie. “You must tell me how these guys are at work. I have this idea they’re fantasy league basketball-ing all the time.” Melanie laughed and they spoke, hunching over and giggling, while Liz checked out the roof.
Heat lamps and lights dotted the broad roof. A bunch of people were standing at the edge, looking out on a vast skyline, skyscrapers downtown in the distance, and the Bay Bridge lights twinkling in draped arcs. Johnny got up and talked to some people at another table. She was surprised when RC caught her eye.
“Do you hang out here a lot?”
He sipped his mojito. “When I lived here, we’d come up on the weekend, but I didn’t really know about places like this. We mostly just walked around, hit on random restaurants or bars. It’s fun knowing people who actually live here, like Brenda.”
“So where did you live?”
“Mountain View. I was helping start this firm for Johnny’s dad.”
“Oh, thought you knew. Johnny’s Dad, Joss, John Sr. actually, is the founder of Aspert. He owns a conglomeration that bought Aspert a few years ago.”
Liz gulped her mojito. “Melanie didn’t tell me.” She had thought Johnny was John, well, she hadn’t really thought about it much. She barely had time to read the presentation she was in charge of delivering to that meeting. It was her own fault, she had been really checked out lately.
Brenda poured herself another mojito and topped off Melanie’s as well. They were still giggling about something indistinct.
RC looked out at the roof. “Yeah, John wanted to get in on the web portal business, and it may seem a stretch, but worldwide shipping has its own market for online business. In the Dot Com, we setup shop and started doing online tracking, Fed Ex, that kinda thing. I flew out here for a year or so and got the office going. Johnny was traveling the world, finding himself.”
“And you didn’t want to go traveling? Find yourself? Seems more interesting than starting a company.”
RC waited a few beats. “Companies are boring?”
Johnny came back. “Wow, there’s so many people here. What are you guys talking about?”
“When RC lived here before.”
“Yep, many times I think Dad wanted RC to be his kid. But I learned the magic to being a perfect son; let him win at golf.”
RC laughed. Johnny defended himself. “Liz, it’s true, Joss is totally competitive. And even though he knows it’s just a game, it really pleases him.”
Melanie and Brenda had now gone off to the bar to do shots, and were out of hearing. Liz decided to take advantage of having their ears. “So what do you think of the presentations we showed you yesterday? Any comments or suggestions? Of course you don’t really have to talk about it if you’d rather…”
RC started to respond. “Don’t get me wrong, we saw a lot of good presentations, but I’m not sure…”
Johnny interrupted RC. “I think it’s a go.” He drained his cup. “Oh, I’m ready to blow this joint. Let’s go to that club Brenda was talking about.”
“RC, you’re ignoring me. OMG there’s Ben!” Brenda ran off after a shaggy haired guy standing with some others across the roof.
Half hour later, as they all managed to get on the same page about who was going where, Liz was crammed into a cab with Melanie. Brenda and the guys were headed to a club.
Melanie slurred out her story on the way back to Liz’s house what she and Brenda had talked about. “Seems like Johnny is going to get the business soon, and RC has his own money. He doesn’t really need to work, I guess. He has early stock options in some stuff from Dot Com. But Brenda is totally in love with him, and RC’s making the moves. She expects a ring this weekend. They’re going to Napa for a wine tasting and they want me to come! I managed to talk her into you coming too.”
“I don’t know if I can…”
“It will be so much fun! This is for work, too, so you can’t really say no.”
They stopped outside her house and she jumped out.
She reached for her keys, and remembered that Dani was visiting. She buzzed the door, no answer. “Fuck.”
She walked a block over and started madly dialing her sister. She left a short, irate message and stopped inside the neighborhood liquor store. She waved at the guy working behind the counter, Steve, and picked up some toilet paper. It was after midnight, and her sister was still MIA.
“Hey, Liz.” Fred waved at her from the other end of the refrigerator aisle.
She clicked her phone closed. “Hey.”
Fred and Liz had gone out for two years on and off, which meant running into a neighbor a little more anxiety prone than otherwise. She explained her situation and he suggested they get a beer down the block. Over pints of Anchor Steam, they caught up.
“I’ve been working a new gig, that restaurant in Yerba Buena Park, Blue.”
“Where are you at?”
“How’s Melanie?” Fred asked. He had always expressed a little too much interest in her hot boss.
“Fine. She has found the love of her life, but she won’t admit it. She’s got that jaded divorcee thing.”
“Rowr.” He clawed the air, mimicking their codeword for cougar, women over forty who like young guys.
She laughed. “Damn, where is my sister. I’m exhausted.”
He asked what she had done that night, what she had done last weekend, to the point that she knew he was either lonely or sincerely wanting to get back together. Finally Dani SMS’d her that she was finally back in the apartment, and Liz hugged Fred and went home.
Dani standing in the kitchen, wearing a sweatshirt thrown over a miniskirt and eating yoghurt out of the container. She yelled at Liz, who was in the same room.
“Oh my god, there was some hot guys there tonight. I don’t know how you do it living here, man, the guys were HOT, and I danced so much my feet are dying.” She perched on top of a draftsman’s chair they left in the kitchen just for this purpose, after dancing snacks. “Do you still ahve those…. Yes!” She grabbed corndogs from the freezer and turned on the oven. “Hmmm. Toasted corndogs.”
“Dani stop yelling!” Liz walked down the hallway to her room and dropped her purse and mail, kicked off her shoes and pulled on some sweats too.
“SORRY MY EARS ARE SHOT.”
“PUT ONE IN FOR ME.” She yelled, and soon heard Dani tossing in another corn dog on the cookie sheet. She walked back to the kitchen and sat at her dinette chrome set. She loved this crappy 1940s table and chairs. the squeaks they made, the scratches in the top. It was her first furniture purchase.
“WHERE WERE YOU?”
“I was at Medjool.”
Dani grimaced. “Old people.”
“It’s really nice. You can see the whole city. And the people I was with bought all the drinks. Those mojitos, really nice.”
“I don’t get how you can have a good time sitting and drinking and talking about work… all night. And how come you’re being so cheap? I thought you had all this money?”
“The car again. Ugh. It kept dying on the way home the other night.”
“I don’t get why you have a car either.”
“Oh is this from ‘can I borrow your car to go to Yosemite’?”
“Yes, it is nice to borrow your car, but from your perspective, you take the bus every friggin day! You only drive your car hwen you’re moving it from parking space to parking space.”
“I like to leave the city once in a while.”
“I do to, and I am able to, on our public transit system.”
“Any cute guys at Med-Joool?”
“Well, the clients aren’t that bad looking. Melanie’s getting the cream of the crop.”
“I know why, that’s because Melanie tries. have you heard of eyeshadow? It really helps.”
“God you are so full of advice tonight. I’m heading in. Don’t wake me up.”
“No! We have to go to Tartine! I just read about it.”
“Yeah, sure, but you go and stand in line and call me when you’re close, OK?”
“Sure, I don’t care. I’ll just bring my iPod.”
Liz did her evening ablutions and then crashed. She lay in bed wondering what would happen if Melanie did hook up with Johnny. Would her life change, for the better? Would Melanie see sense enough to go after Johnny or screw it up like she screwed up other nice, interested guys who seemed into her. She just was so jaded and negative, it ended badly usually all around. RC had shown an interesting side tonight. Raul had peaked her interest that afternoon, and she didn’t dismiss getting lunch with him on Monday, that’d be fun. He was just like her, she liked that. They had the same sense of humor. All those mojitos and rich food, and no dinner, and corndog and mustard, she would have interesting dreams tonight.
Saturday morning in the ghetto. She slept through five homeless people dragging their carts under her window on the sidewalk. Hundred drunken people stumbled by singing, crying, laughing and arguing when the bars closed at 2am. The bells of the Mission church struck loud and clear, pealing through her blinds and not waking her up. Dani blasted Regina Spektor and danced around with a broom inside her room, and still Liz was able to groggily turn over and thank her stars that 1) the car didn’t need to be moved and 2) it was Saturday.
Dani finally yelled “I’m going to Tartine!” and ran out the apartment, locking 10 locks on her front door. That woke up Liz. She was deathly afraid of being broken in on, and had a keen sense of hearing for the slightest metal against metal tumbling that was unfamiliar and fumbling.
She hummed a U2 song as she got ready. Plates with streaks of mustard and ketchup sat in the sink. She started making coffee and wiping down the corners of corndog crumbs. Dani came back just as the coffee finished brewing.
“God I love it when the air is full of coffee smell.” Dani said, plopping a white paper bag on the dinette.
Liz sat cupping the hot mug as Dani unloaded a chocolate and almond croissant. Dani got a knife and split each one, placing halves on a plate for Liz. “Madame, voice votre croissant.”
“Merci, mademoiselle.” They’ve spoken high school French – for that’s what it was, a high flutey sound like the teacher they had in high school- ever since then, basically. “So tell me, what’s your new job like?”
Dani poured herself some coffee into the Death Valley mug and picked off flakes of her croissant. “Let’s see, there’s a dragon lady boss, a stuffy boring boss, some cute guys in tech support, and some amazing smells from the cafeteria around lunch time. People really go the full effort for lunch there.”
“I guess there’s not much nearby, or something?”
“I don’t know. Whatever.” Dani sighed, and looked out their back stoop onto the other backstoops of other apartments. Pigeons lined up on the roof next door, and flew in and out, building a nest and pooping on everything in sight. “What’s the point? I’ve been fired from five jobs. Five. I’m a complete failure at business. My job now is to just, not get fired.”
“You’ll figure something out. Just stay low profile.”
“Yeah, well, you’ll see. This gig will turn out the same. I’ll get some passive-aggressive MBA dominatrix lady who wants me to lick her boots every day, and the minute I have a dentist appointment or talk to someone instead of answering the fucking phone, and she’ll be like, your ass is grass.”
“Your ass is grass.” Liz finished her cup and got up to pour more. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard that one before.”
“Yes you have.” Dani snuck a bite in her sister’s croissant. She picked up Liz’s cell phone. “Does this get the internet?”
“Oh, yeah, I think so, but don’t because I’m not sure how much it costs.”
“It’s vibrating!!” Dani dropped it on the table like it was a cockroach.
Liz sat down and picked it up. Melanie was on the CallerID. “Hey.”
“We’re going to napa, did you forget?”
Liz looked at Dani. “Yeah, I did. When?”
“Johnny just called and gave me directions, so we can leave in the next few hours. Can you get your stuff together?”
“Uh, yeah. My sister is here though.” She told Dani what was up.
“I’m totally fine with taking care of your place, seriously.”
The eagerness with which Dani agreed to stay here without her made Liz nervous. Two hours later, though, Liz was issuing last minute instructions to Dani. “Don’t leave without locking the door! Don’t park downtown! Don’t park without turning your wheels inside going downhill and…”
“I got it, don’t worry. I’m not going to drive your car.”
“OK, well, I’m off.” Melanie honked outside again and Liz grabbed her purse and overnight bag and ran down the stairs. It was blindingly bright out, and Melanie sat in her convertible Saab with huge sunglasses on and an iced latte. “It may be fall, but I’m still ready for it to be summer.” She yelled, as Liz put her bags in the back and got in the front seat.
They drove through the city for a half hour and then across the Golden Gate Bridge, up 101 for another half hour until they were in the acres and acres of neatly laid out symmetrical rows of vines. She breathed in and tried to notice what was so different. The sea air was gone, replaced with the heavy, sweet smell of grapes in the air. Melanie swung off into some small drive lined with eucalyptus, and the air just as quickly changed from heavy and sweet to a minty menthol of the trees. Driving under the shade of the huge grey giants, Liz was instantly cool and refreshed, she wondered who you had to screw to get a life like this.
Johnny’s aunt, the one who lived in Pac Heights, also had this ranch in Sonoma. They pulled up to an 1800s style white ranch house. The road had turned to dirt a mile back, and so everybody just parked in the yard. Liz counted an Audi Boxter, a red Mercedes, granted, a little worse for wear, a Range Rover, a Prius, and a few other cars of European descent.
Melanie had told Liz in the car that there was some rooms available here, and Liz was happy since she had decided to splurge on her credit, and that stress was instantly gone now that she was staying for free here. But there was a little bit of dread that she was completely out of her depth, if the party decided to drop into the French Laundry or Gloria Ferrer for an afternoon of (not gratis) wine tasting.
They knocked on the front door but was immediately welcomed by a shout from what must have been the back of the house. A slightly overweight, greying brunette woman in her 60s greeted them as Johnny’s Aunt Mary Louise. She chatted with them and led them up a large if creaky stair case to a long series of hallways. At the end were two rooms, and they were urged to leave their stuff, and meet the rest of the folks outside, where they were having lunch al fresco until they started the tour of the vineyards.
Liz dropped her bags and sat on the bed. She felt like she was a broken record, saying “You’re so nice,” and “This is so lovely!” about everything. She sat on beautiful cotton sheets and a blanket, the boudoir was old wood, but clean and sturdy, and two windows looked out in either direction on the vineyards, trees, and foothills. They were old sash windows and with a little bit of muscle she opened one and let the warm afternoon air into the room.
“Nice, huh?” Melanie said from the doorway.
“I can’t believe I even thought of not coming.”
“Yeah, well we better join them before it gets too late to hit some wineries.” Melanie started off.
Liz joined her outside, where they were greeted by MaryLouise, Brenda, Johnny, RC, and two other people who turned out to be neighbors. They quickly grabbed some of the antipasta, and had a small taste of the neighbor’s chardonnay. Everyone was eager to get out tasting wine before it got too late.
The other friends took another car, and Johnny had gotten a friend to act designated driver around the vineyards. Liz climbed into her assigned spot in the Range Rover, next to Johnny and Melanie, who were giggling and teasing, the entire time. It gave her time to regard RC and Brenda, in front of her, as they were joking and discussing old friends at length.
At each vineyard Melanie and Johnny crowded together discussing the wine or sharing stories. It left time for her and RC and Brenda, but Brenda usually managed to get RC off to his own. That left Liz with the prospect of walking around each vineyard and learning about the wines. She had never been uninterested in wine, but she acknowledged she didn’t have the palate that others seemed to have.
“Oh my god this is amazing. It tastes like grapefruit.” Brenda bought a case. Liz checked out some single bottles, around ten dollars or even less, but held back.
“You should get one.” RC was standing behind her.
“I’m waiting until I find something I really want.”
“That’s not a bad idea. But what if you miss out on something, because you’re waiting for something else?”
“Usually I know what I want right away.”
He swirled his few ounces of cabernet. “You proscribe to the theory that first impressions are always correct. I take it you’ve never been wrong before.”
“Not about something I consider pretty seriously.”
“You consider it seriously, but you privilege the first impression over all other evidence.”
“Basically, your gut response to something is usually the truest feeling than any over-intellectualized reasoning that you’d make afterwards.”
Brenda rallied everyone into the car and they headed off to their last stop, the Gloria Ferrer vineyard.
Liz got an omen as they approached the well-groomed grounds. No picnic table and owner effusively pushing his own blends, no, this was high priced luxury in the guise of a wine tasting.
Liz nudged Melanie. “Does anyone actually taste here?”
“Oh god, no. This is basically a restaurant. And, pricey.”
Liz forewent lunch and sipped on water, or whatever champagne was making its way around. Nobody believed her when she said she wasn’t hungry.
“Come on, RC, walk with me around the grounds.” Brenda got up and walked outside. RC made his goodbyes and followed her.
Melanie raised her eyebrows at Liz. Liz smiled, trying not to giggle rudely.
“Here it goes.” Johnny said.
“You think he’s going to do it?” Melanie asked the table.
The neighbors, Pat and Jim, were laughing, so Liz suspected they were in on it. How totally humiliating if he didn’t.
“Knowing RC, he probably wont tell me until I have to stand up there on the alter. The man is silent. He is still waters run still.”
Melanie took pity on Liz and shared her plate of pasta, and they finally adjourned to the car. A note on it said that Brenda and RC were going to catch a ride back with friends they’d met. Liz felt a relaxation on the ride back. Not just because of six or so odd cups of wine, but because RC just brought this tension with him, and knowing that Brenda had expectations of him, that if Liz was honest, she suspected that he didn’t return, added an element of heavy fog of emotion to the entire day.
They all collapsed in their rooms for a siesta. MaryLouise seemed busy with a problem with a horse in the stables- Liz had no idea they had stables- so dinner was the last thing on her mind.
Two hours later Liz lay in bed, groggily trying to remember where she was and what was going on. She walked downstairs, saw there was nothing going on for dinner and did some exploration.
MaryLouise bounded into the room, full of energy and purpose. “Oh yes, darling, that would be fine. There’s some pasta somewhere, and just see if there’s olives or canned mushrooms. We’ll have un petite salade, c’est tout.”
“Bien sur!” Liz responded in high school french before catching herself.
“Tu parles Francais?”
MaryLouise babbled in incomprehensible fast Parisian French, and Liz shrugged her shoulders, with an apologetic shrug.
MaryLouise sighed, “Voici, maintenant,” then grabbed a bottle of red wine and poured two generous glasses. “I studied at the Sorbonne, you know.” She said this gravely like, she was abducted by terrorists, or the end of the world is a matter of ten minutes away. “I thought I would teach French, like I did when I was single. But now, all this, and then Jacques passed away, and now it’s just me.” She sighed, then recognizing dinner was completely unprepared, Started filling a stockpot and turning on the huge stainless steel oven.
“And, do you go to France frequently?”
“Oh darling, it’s impossible with the horses, the children, the parties, the obligations. Well, at least I didn’t for years, and then bought un adorable apartment sur le Bois.”
“That sounds lovely.” She quickly wiped up a ring her wineglass left on the pristine white counter.
Melanie came in and MaryLouise gestured for Liz to pour her a glass. MaryLouise bustled over and wiped the wine ring again.
“So any news?” Melanie asked Liz, her eyes big. “You know, between hmmm hmm and so-and-so.”
“What’s this?” MaryLouise yelled over the stove.
Melanie leaned her hip against the counter near the range. “We all think RC is going to propose to Brenda today.”
“Oh, that. I don’t think that’s going to work out for her.”
Liz and Melanie exchanged looks.
“RC came back alone, about an hour ago, and Brenda is still at their friends’, the Getty’s. Now you two girls make yourself useful and set the table with the country white settings in the cabinet over there.”
Melanie and Liz were busy helping out when Brenda came back.
“Aren’t you two being helpful. I’m going to sneak in and avoid Johnny’s aunt, OK? Call me when dinner’s on the table, or just, don’t worry, I’ll just get some leftovers later.” She chattered as she clacked across the tile and into the house. Melanie didn’t have a chance to answer any of her questions.
“Melanie, when do you want to head out tomorrow?”
“Oh, let me see…”
“Let me guess, you’re going to ask Johnny?”
Liz’s cell phone rang, it was Dani.
“What’s up?” Liz said.
“Um, when do you get your next paycheck?”
Liz looked off into the dusk of the evening, the trees arcing over the terrace, and the air just now getting brisk. “Let me guess. You totaled the car, and you’re wondering how soon I can replace it.”
“No. I’m at City Tow…”
“You have to pay for this, Dani. On your credit card. I’m not putting it on mine.”
“You don’t have any cash? I mean, I thought you might otherwise I wouldn’t bug you at all. I’m totally pay you back, don’t worry. Totally.”
“You won’t have to, because you’re paying for this.” Liz realized she was yelling in the tranquil Sonoma evening, and tried to compose herself. “Well, I’m glad no one was hurt. Wait, no one was hurt, right?”
“When are you coming back?”
Liz wanted more than anything never to return to San Francisco. “Not sure, I’ll ring you when I know. But you can do this all on your own Dani, really. You don’t need me. OK? OK. Bye.”
“What was that?” Melanie asked. In her hands were all of the wineglasses fanning out in big bouquets of glass.
“Dani. She didn’t total my car, but she did get towed.”
“Do you have to head back?”
“No, I’m letting her figure this one out. I basically told her to put it on her VISA, I mean when it comes down to it, it’s mine or hers.”
RC and Johnny came out and started pouring wine, and soon MaryLouise followed with a big bowl of pasta. Conversation was rather light as they ate. At one point, Johnny raised his blond head and nodded to the house. “So is Brenda back, then? What were you guys up to, RC?”
RC sighed, and pushed his plate a bit away from him. “Let’s see walked around Gloria Ferrer, then ran into her friends. They marched us over to their house to see their cellar, which is very impressive. I wanted to get back and crash, but she was just settling in for a long chat with her friend Monica, so we just came back at different times. She’s back, right? I assumed she was.”
Liz looked at RC while he spoke. With the afternoon of drinking, and night closing in on them, and candles illuminating his face, it warmed up the angles on his face.
“Yeah, she came back about an hour or so ago. Really tired, I think, and she said she’d just catch something later.” Liz volunteered. “This has been a lot of fun, and I wanted to thank you, MaryLouise, and Johnny, and everyone.”
“Oh it’s been fun having you!” Johnny said, and his eyes drifted quickly to Melanie.
Liz smiled to herself. “Does anyone want coffee? I can just go in and make it, right MaryLouise? Do I need to be checked out on any equipment?”
“Oh, let me show you.” MaryLouise got up noisily and led Liz into the kitchen.
“So I didn’t really catch the connection between you and …” she gestured out onto the patio.
“Oh, I’m a friend of Melanie’s.”
“There, get the cups from that shelf, and don’t forget the saucers!” Liz loaded up a tray with cups and saucers, delivered them outside. Her friends were laughing raucously and she regretted helping out with the coffee.
“And how does Melanie know…” again MaryLouise gestured out to the patio.
Liz explained the connection, and MaryLouise poured coffee into a thermos and started another pot. “Take this out to the back, dear. I’m good now, you can just stay out there.”
As Liz walked through the thick pile white carpet, the modern paintings on the wall, the house seemed not so farm house and rustic as before, but a costly imitation of what country living was. She also began to feel more like a servant than a guest, and she couldn’t precisely tell where, or when, she had crossed that line with MaryLouise, if ever.
They sat enjoying their coffee. MaryLouise came out with the thermos for more, and excused herself to go to bed.
Johnny started giggling and couldn’t’ stop. “I just love it when she does this lady of the manor thing.”
Melanie nudged him under the table. “She’s nice to put up your friends.”
“I can imagine she’s busy, it is really generous of her to let us crash here for a few days. We should get her something.” RC said.
“Oh, Dad will put her up at their place in London for a week or so, don’t worry. It’s all part of the cycle of shit.” Johnny replied. It’s like they’d had this conversation many times.
“The what?” Liz asked.
Johnny forewent the coffee and poured himself more wine. “OK, so I have shit, and you have shit, and we just end up swapping it, that way we never hav eto do things like, gasp!, pay bills or exchange cash.”
“Sounds very, democratic and efficient to me, like recycling.” Liz responded.
“Sure, but it also leads to these long grudges about who owes what, and if my place in London is nicer than your farmhouse in Sonoma.”
“And, we can never go to Barbados, for example, or Kenya, because Mommy doesn’t have an apartment there that she pays for each month in mortgages, and maintains for any moment that she wants to drop in on.”
“Poor little baby.” Melanie said, smiling adoringly at Johnny.
“OK, kids, I think I’m going to hit the sack. Thanks for everything, again Johnny, I really enjoyed it here.”
“I was going to ask you guys. You think you can stay one more day? I know this great watering hole up the road. We could go and have a picnic and stuff. It’d be fun. Get away from Lady of the Manor for a day.”
“Yes!” Melanie responded before LIz could get a word in.
“Sure, sounds like fun.” She said. She wasn’t tired so much as ready to be alone and read, or just stare out the window. She went in the house, and up the stairs, and past a little study room with computers, where Brenda was sobbing on the phone. She didn’t want to overhear, but she is the type that tends to want more information than less.
“He just doesn’t know it. He loves me, he does, but he just isn’t letting himself love me. He doesn’t give himself the courage to be happy.” More sobbing and lamenting, and Liz was bored and headed into her room. After washing and bathroom, she found the sheets were gloriously cool and fell asleep in a matter of seconds.
She knew it was morning, but it was so odd. For one, strange barn noises filled the air. She kept forgetting that this was a ranch house. She opened the window out onto the back of the house and dust filled the air, as guys were leading horses around a pasture past the stables. She didn’t know exactly to what purpose they did it, but they all seemed very industrious. She saw a tractor out in the distance, too. She wondered what MaryLouise was up to.
Melanie was in the kitchen, pouring herself coffee.
“There’s some pastries in that box there. RC went out to town and picked them up. He’s very handy.” She leered at her.
Liz laughed, “You’re doing that ‘I’m in love so everyone else must be to. If you noticed, “There is almost no magic between us. Like, zilch, nada, none.”
“Yeah, well, you never know. Given a certain someone and how rockin’ she looks in a bikini.”
Liz covered her face. “God, I wish I’d never shared that album of me in Mexico. Little did I know that it would run the rounds of work.”
“You gave all the guys in IT something to dream about, think of it that way.”
“Ha. Ha. Ha. You’re not the one who has one of them calling you once a week to upgrade some mysterious software that’s not even on my computer.”
RC was sitting out back with his legs up, pastry crumbs on his shirt and the Sunday New York Times spread out on long table they’d been dining on last night.
“You look comfortable.”
He seem slightly pissed that she said that.
“What? You don’t want me to say you look relaxed??” She thought about leaving hte patio and then decided she wouldn’t give him that satisfaction.
She spread out her breakfast, and looked around for the Style section.
Johnny bounded out of the house. “Where’s Melanie?”
Liz pointed inside.
“You two are chipper.” He said, and left.
“I don’t understand why you are so, so… sensitive.” He said over his paper.
“I’m not sensitive. I just have eyes, and ears.” She was bored of him. “Can I read my paper in silence?”
“Fine with me.”
Melanie and Johnny came out laughing. “OK campers, we’re almost ready, no rush, but let’s get over there before it’s too hot. Hey where’s Brenda?” They both didn’t wait for an answer, and started hefting picnic baskets out around the house to the cars.
Liz kept forgetting about Brenda. It’s like she was this stick on bit to the sculpture that kept falling off.
On queue, Brenda walked in, big dark Donna Karan glasses on, and a very small robe. She raised her hand in acknowledgment, and then strolled into the kitchen, coming out in a few minutes with a piece of bread and a large mug of coffee.
Liz waited to see if RC was going to say anything.
She waited a long time, and basically gave up on the game. She was engrossed in the week in the news when she caught up with a conversation RC and Brenda were having.
“Am not.” Brenda pouted.
“Yes you are, admit it.” RC placated.
“Well you don’t have to go. You could stay with me.”
“I’d like to go, it’s gorgeous out. You should get out. Best thing for a hangover, anyways, hair of the dog.” RC said briefly, while reading, like he wasn’t listening at all really.
“You guys want more coffee?” Liz sought a convenient exit.
“What do you think Lizzie?” Brenda said.
Hearing “Lizzie” was nails on the chalkboard to Liz. She didn’t want to be Frizzy Lizzie, Lesbo, Sleazie, all of the junior high taunts that came along with the unfortunate tendency of some of her teachers to further bastardize the already fine, simple, proud name Liz.
“I’d love some coffee.” RC said, and held out his cup. Liz grabbed it and walked into the house.
She ran right into MaryLouise.
“Sorry, I’ve got to run Liz, dear. Make yourself comfortable. One of my best horses is completely sick. It’s quite awful, and I need to get the vet. You’ll all be fine. Johnny said he’s taking you down to the hole, so I probably won’t see you until later. Can you toss the dishes in the washer when you’re all done? And there are some dirty clothes there, if you could pop them in the next load, that would be so dear, dear.” MaryLouise did look vacant, as she wandered out and into the field across from the house, heading for hte stables that were down the hill and hidden by the trees.
Liz looked after her and wondered what the consequences would be of not filling the washer, turning on the dishes, and… oh it was more trouble than just doing the damn work.
She filled RC’s cup and her own, and took it out to him.
“I don’t think you’re thinking this through.” Brenda said quietly.
RC was still reading the paper. “Well it will be really nice down there. I’m already getting hot.”
Liz chose the dishes and laundry instead of emotionally manipulative couplespeak.
Melanie practically bounded into the kitchen. “What the hell are you doing?”
“MaryLouise asked me to do some clean-up. It’s really OK. Anything to avoid..” She pointed outside and mimicked Brenda bitch-slapping RC.
Melanie whispered to Liz. “She’s not really hungover. She was crying all night. I feel sorry for her. RC is such a prick, I mean come on, he has to just cut the cord if he’s not interested. This slow thing he’s doing is excruciating.”
“You tell me, she was asking me advice, in front of him! About what, of course, I have no idea.” Liz wiped her hands on a dish towel. “OK, I think I’m off work now.”
Melanie laughed and dragged her out to the car. Johnny was fussing with the stereo. They all piled in, then honked, and soon RC joined them.
“Where’s Brenda?” Johnny asked.
“She wanted to stay here.”
They looked at each other and Liz thought something passed between them, but decided to let it go unasked.
They drove a few miles on the main road then turned down a dirt road to a grove of deciduous trees around a pond.
“Here it is. The Hole.” Melanie undertook unloading baskets and laying out blankets. Liz walked around the hole, checking out the seemingly vacant land all around. “Why isn’t this vineyards?” She asked Johnny when she got back.
“I think it’s some preserved open space, or something. They can’t develop on it. Not that anyone has really tried. There’s enough turnover in vineyards here from Silicon Valley people. It seems to be all the small vineyards here are passed hands every few years as fortunes come and go.”
“And the big wineries don’t want this land? Like Gallo, or whatever?” Liz asked.
“Not sure. I don’t keep up on the winery stuff, but I hear peopel talk about getting grapes from Paso Robles, and Central Valley, so maybe they’re not that interested in our land prices. Not sure.”
“Boring. You are boring us.” Melanie said and started passing out sandwiches.
“I just ate, and I’m eating again. And I feel like I’ve been constantly eating.”
“It’s vacation, that’s what you do.” RC said. He separated a sandwich and bit into it. “Now, if only I’d remembered the paper.”
“No, this is what you do.” Melanie said, and made sure Johnnie’s legs were behind her and lay back on the blanket, her head on his legs. “You stare at the sky.”