Chapter Twenty OneId rather have root canal, Lynn thought, gritting her teeth, as she shifted her position uncomfortably in the floral printed Martha Stewartesque patio chair by her mothers pool. Ellen Stevens.. what a piece of work. Each visit to her mother was preluded by a mental perfection check list Kelly dressed in one of her grandmothers latest fru fru proper girl dresses, which usually included lace or frills or both. Where the hell did she think they lived? Tara? Luckily Kelly was in her feminine stage and ate it up, down to her pristinely polished shoes. Lynns adjustments started with a drink, a stiff one, to calm her down, artificial courage for the nit picking she knew was to come. Margies daughter was married.. Ritas daughter was on the Arts League. Im on the rag, she wanted to say, sitting primly amidst her mothers society friends, as they chatted about their usual inane topics fashion, the latest it hair dresser and the latest faaabulous recipe they had debuted at last nights cocktail party at the club.
"So tell us darling," schmoozed Margie, as she primped Kelly and smoothed her beautifully curled and beribboned hair, "when will we see you at the club?"
Feeling surrounded, Lynn stammered, her usual quick wit eluding her. Her mother, not wanting to lose face, picked up the ball and ran with it.
"Lynns social calendar is quite full Im afraid. Just this morning she got a call from her cousin Allison in Connecticut inviting her to visit. And just in time for the start of the equestrian season.."
Her mom didnt miss a beat. Only hours before Lynn had mentioned Kellys new pony. Smile, she thought, it could be worse. Ever predictable, Mother would do and say just about anything to save face. All mighty appearances.. Luckily her mothers own schedule was filled, and moments like these were limited to once a month, just in time for the next installment of her "allowance."
"Kelly just started to ride herself.." Lynn piped up. "Shes a natural. Has quite a seat.."
"I got a pony from.."
"Tell Grandmother what your ponys name is," Lynn said quickly. God forbid the subject of "daddy" came up.
"Penny.." Kelly beamed, "shes pretty."
"Not as pretty as you darling," Rita cooed.
"A friend owns a horse ranch out west," Lynn smiled, "so we got her a pony." So what, Lynn thought, smoothing her coifed hairdo, hoping that Kelly didnt divulge the truth. But Lady Luck seemed to be smiling on her because Kelly skipped off onto the lawn, prancing, pretending to be Penny.
"Dont dirty up your pretty dress angel," Ellen Stevens said, giving her daughter a knowing that was close look.
Smile and nod, Lynn thought. It would all be over soon, as the older women regrouped for tea or bridge or whatever was on the schedule of the wealthy, older Boca Raton set. Boca.. its where rich women over 60 went to die.. in style of course, just far enough from Fort Lauderdale for Lynn to breath.
Truly old school. Lynns mother was happy to pay to keep her daughter in "the style that she was meant to live," paying for the Bahia Mar and the occasional credit card bills without as much as a flinch. Her divorce settlement had been more than generous, and as long as her daughter was discreet, Ellen Stevens would gladly keep her daughter and granddaughter living comfortably.
"You look tired dear," Ellen said, eyeing Lynn suspiciously. "Schedule a massage. It will fix you right up," she said, as the last of her friends departed, heading home to freshen up before regathering for dinner at the club.
You dont know the half of it. If her mother had the slightest inkling of what she was tangled up in, shed soil her linen Armani slacks. Both women knew that certain topics were not open to discussion, Mitch, or "that man" topping the list. She had to hand it to her. There was nothing like a perfectly mixed drink and gourmet hors doevres served in a beautiful setting to whisk any thoughts of problems from Lynns mind, even if it was just for a few hours. Their current trip to Grandmas house couldnt have come at a better time, since Lynn had successfully eluded Nick the last few days.
"I couldnt agree more," Lynn smiled, watching her mother write out her check.
"I dont mean to rush you off Lynn darling, but its getting dark and I dont feel comfortable thinking of you and the baby driving back in that..that car all the way to Fort Lauderdale."
"Yes Mother, youre right. I could use a new car. But until I get a new one I will be careful. Let me go get Kelly.."
at the run down excuse for a vehicle marring the beauty of her landscaping. Reaching for
her agenda book, she jotted down a note reminding herself to call her ex husband about
replacing the broken down car that was currently transporting his granddaughter about.
That should get him. He had the money. He should pay.
The dread started to build the closer they got to home, for Lynn was sure shed have half a dozen messages from Nick waiting for her at the front desk. Ugh and your father, Lynn thought, glancing back at her dozing daughter in the back seat. She had totally forgot about their scheduled date to go riding at whats her names ranch that afternoon., and was sure Mitch wouldnt let her forget her faux pas. Ill call him tomorrow, she reassured herself, that is if this clunker got them home in one piece. Hopefully her mother had taken the bait and a new car, like the stars is the darkening sky, would be on the horizon.
Climbing the stairs with a brew in his hand, Mitch was glad they had finally put the bar to bed for the night. The loft was quiet. Poor Angel must already be asleep, he thought, and turned around, heading back downstairs, not wanting to disturb his friend. It hardly seemed like it was the same bar that had been bustling with activities a couple of hours before. It was eerily quiet, the only light coming from the bars neon sign. Mitch sipped his beer, taking in the quiet, as he took down one of the up-turned chairs and sat down, just about where Krystal had been seated when he had walked in. Obviously upset, she had glared at him, her eye brows meeting in a deep v accentuating the coldness in her eyes. Not good with confrontations, Mitch had walked up, a big smile pasted on his face, hoping that the right words would come.
"See Krystal? I told you," Sid chuckled, loving the to watch his friend squirm.
"Told her what?" Mitch asked, uneasily.
Her pleasant chat with Sid over a couple of ice cold beers had lightened Krystals mood significantly, but Mitch wouldnt be in on that little tid bit of information until she had put him through the ringer a bit. "Oh we got the chance to discuss quite a few things," Krystal answered, flatly, glancing over at an amused Sid. "Youd be surprised what can come up in oh, two hours.."
"Im really sorry about that Krys," Mitch said, sitting down between Krystal and Sid. "Time just got away from me somehow.." From the expression on Sids face, Mitch knew better than to elaborate.
"It must be going around because Lynn never showed with Kelly."
"She didnt? I was sure Id get here to get chewed out by Lynn.." Mitch could see that Krystal was biting back a comment he really couldnt blame her if she herself chewed him out for being so late without a call. But his apology would have to wait. Right now he needed to call Lynn and make sure Kelly was okay. It wasnt like Lynn to miss a chance to drop Kelly off and take advantage of the break to go shopping or out with her friends. "Will you excuse me for a second? I wanna call Lynn and make sure Kellys okay."
"He can call Lynn but he couldnt manage to get to a phone and call me," Krystal complained, shooting laser beam looks at Mitch as he headed towards the back.
"Oooh, girlfriend, if looks could kill," Sid teased, "youda pinned Mitch up against a wall by now. Im diggin this whole edgy undercurrent thing, but I need to go.."
"Youre leaving? Youre the only redeeming factor of this whole afternoon.."
"Dont get your frillies in a bunch baby," he teased, "I just go need to unload some of the beers Ive chugged. Dont go away. Ill be back before you can say Melrose Place."
Mitch had just hung up the phone as Sid emerged from the bathroom. "So wheres the she devil at?" Sid asked.
"Youre guess is as good as mine. I left a message for her at the front desk of the hotel. Bet she just forgot."
"Stranger things have been known to happen," quipped Sid. "You really blew it this afternoon. But never fear. You can pay me back by treating me to a few brewskies.."
"Things got interesting back at the hospital before Jess got released.."
"Hey, you know me, I love to dish as much as the next guy, but if we dont get out there soon, Krystalll skin us both alive. There were no phones around? You couldnt have called and made up something about car trouble or something?"
"Why do I have to lie?" Mitch bit back. "Jess is my friend and she needed me. Im not the first person to lose track of time and Im sure I wont be the last.."
"Woah buddy, no need to have a spaz. But I am gonna say this. Krystals a cool chick and you really gotta let her know where you guys stand." Even Sid was stunned when thoughts of asking Krystal out himself came over him just then. Better keep this little tidbit to myself, Sid thought, looking at his best friend in bemusement. Mitch would have to make up his mind, or he might just make it for him.
"Weve talked about this all before. I even told her that I liked her, and she pretty much turned me down."
"Mitch. This is a woman were talkin about, remember? She may have said that, but her behavior this afternoon says otherwise. She was so pissed kept looking at the door waiting for you to come in. Shes all jealous about all the time youre spending with Jessie.."
"Thats crazy. She knows Jess and I are just good friends.."
"Really? Im not gonna blow sunshine up your ass Mitch. I think she might be onto something. Youre just as hooked on Jess now as you were before she was engaged," Sid said, getting up and walking out of Mitchs office and letting the weight of his words sink in.
Even now he could still envision Krystal, arms crossed defiantly, leg swinging under her chair. Mitch had wanted to walk over and hug her and let her know he was genuinely sorry, but she was being icy to him, a stark contrast to the easy banter and laughs she was exchanging with Sid. SID! Mr. Moody himself. Sid had been in rare form, actually coming off as a normal, non abrasive charming type.
"Hey," Sid smiled, smacking the table to emphasize his excitement, "I almost forgot. Miss Krystal has been such wonderful company that I almost forgot about my good news.."
Mitch fought hard to suppress the groan rising in his throat. "Oh? Good news is good.." God, Mitch thought, I sound like such a bonehead.
"I got a new job!"
"You did?!" Krystal mused, reaching out to cover his hand in hers.
Okay, okay.. I deserve it, Mitch thought, but he didnt win the Pulitzer for gods sake. "Thats great. Where are you working now?"
"I got a job at a radio station. Great hours too, the late shift. Just up my alley."
"Thats great Sid. Im happy for you. Its nice to have a job you enjoy."
Looking back, Mitch marveled at how his interaction with his friends sometimes mirrored the dramatic interplay that had existed back in high school, with the who liked who and the girl friend versus girlfriend quandary. What was it.. almost ten years later and he was still getting himself into these messes? Yet there was one thing he could be proud of. After all these years Mitch had been able to hold onto most of his good friends. Sid, Krystal, Jessie.. He must be doing something right. He would find a way to make things right again between he and Krystal, maybe take her to see Rocky Horror again for old times sake. They had been friends too long to let a misunderstanding ruin things between them.
The one he was
truly worried about was Angel. Having known him for what felt like forever, Mitch could
sense that something was wrong. He had hardly said two words all day. When Angel had
excused himself and retreated upstairs well before the last customer had cleared out,
Mitch knew something was terribly wrong. Great. First he had let Krystal down, and now his
best friend of all Angel.
Her hair looked fake, but it didn't matter at all to him. He was just happy to see that smile of hers again, even if it was just a picture. He gazed at the bob-cut, red haired wig she was wearing and smiled warmly. It would have looked garish on just about anyone else, but on Suzanne it looked wonderful. Angel liked all the wigs that she wore they were her trademark no matter how tacky other might have thought they were. A free spirit in the avant garde Eighties, Suzanne made whatever she wore work. For beneath her colorful wardrobe dwelled a heart of pure gold than shone more brightly than any punk hair color ever could. No where could see that inner light more than in her smile. It was that smile that he missed the most, that wonderful smile that went right to his heart.
The days stress had boiled over and the ensuing tears began to fall, unabated. What was he doing torturing himself by looking at Suzannes picture? She was gone, and no matter how hard he willed it to be so, she would never return. Maybe he would get to meet her again in the after life that had held such allure for her while she was alive. Not if I keep fucking up this way, Angel thought. Running his fingers over her picture longingly, he traced the outlines of her face, his thumb sweeping across her sweet, broad smile. Angel bit his lower lip in pain, fighting back a sob that was ascending from deep inside him, like a divers air bubbles from the dark depths of the ocean. Overcome with grief, he lay the picture face down on his lap, dropped his face into his now empty hands and sobbed.
Angel missed his wife, missed her dearly, and for the longest time he had tried to be strong. But it wasnt long before he realized how much of his strength Suzanne had taken with her when she died. She had been the heart of the business, her business savvy and ability to deal with customers a potent mix that had helped their business run smoothly. After she passed away, the business fell quickly on hard times, and before Angel knew it trouble came knocking on his door on a regular basis. It started with little things, like forgetting to pay the electricity bill, and having the power switch off in the middle of the day, in front of a store full of customers. Another day it was the phone, and no phone meant he was cut off from his catalog customers across the country.
Feeling weaker than he had ever felt before, Angel had contemplated the thought of going to some of his friends or family for help. But the pride and strong work ethic instilled in him by his parents prevented him from doing so. He had gotten himself into it, he would get himself out. Besides, everybody had their own lives to lead, with their own set of problems, most of which they didnt ask for. The guilt of blowing what was once a thriving business had sickened him, sickened him even now, for this was the second business venture he had ruined, the other was the Dusk To Dawn, which he had dumped into his friend Mitchs lap, to run away to New York. It had been so easy for Martini to lure him in, feeding on his weakness, tantalizing Angel into the fast paced world of liquor, gambling, anything that would silence the voice of his conscience in his head.
Angels head pounded, his crying and the sobering thought of past mistakes draining him to the core. Sensing another bout of self pity at his own weakness coming on, he reached under Mitchs sofa for the bottle of Jack Daniels he had stashed there. He held the bottle with an iron grip, remembering what the consequences of drinking had brought on in the past. Just one good swig, he thought, to settle my nerves. The metal cap scraped against the glass grooves of the twist top bottle, and Angel gritted his teeth, brought the bottle to his lips and swallowed loudly. Angel leaned back, the bourbons warmth spreading down his throat and into his chest. See? That wasnt so bad.
Think Angel. Youve got to think. The lingerie store had been their baby, but due to his stupidity it was gone, in the past with his memories of Suzanne. Okay, so you tried to run and it didnt work. The phone call from Martinis goon earlier that day a sobering reminder of just what deep trouble he was in. The money he had been sending to Martini wasnt enough. He knew that now. No more running. He had to find a way to get the mob off his back.. but how? It wasnt just him anymore. In choosing to reimmerse himself into the Dusk To Dawn, he had inadvertently endangered his friends in the process.
The TVs glare glinted against the silver frame holding Suzannes picture, causing him to take it in his hands once again. Never had it been so hard for him to look upon the face of his wife. "Im sorry," Angel whispered, his glasses fogging up with the hot tears that threatened to brim over once again. He felt truly ashamed, and could only hope that Suzanne wasnt looking down at him now, and witnessing just how low he had sunk. And yet he smiled, for in his heart he knew that the loving woman who had been his wife was more than likely looking down at him right now, wanting to smack him upside the head. I know youre watching out for me angel, keeping my crazy ass out of trouble. How else could he have stayed out of harms way this long?
The stillness of the room and the calm of his newfound perspective was broken by the sound of Mitchs steel tipped cowboy boots clicking against the stairs. Oh shit! Angel thought with a start. The last thing he wanted was for his friend to see hed been crying, let alone drinking. Shoving the bottle back into its hiding place, Angel quickly slipped Suzannes picture back into his bag, and flung himself onto the sofa, shutting his eyes.
The room seemed abuzz with sound and Mitch was a little stunned to find it still, the noise in his head coming from the mix of thoughts on his mind. Looking towards his right, he saw that the TV was on. "Dude, you awake?" No response. Poor guy musta fallen asleep watching the tube. Some things never changed, Mitch grinned.
Angel fought to slow down his breathing, the adrenaline at almost getting caught by Mitch causing his pulse to race. God how he hated to deceive his friend, but in this case it was better that he thought he was asleep. Shutting his eyes tight, Angel felt Mitch drape a blanket over him and then reach for the remote to switch off the TV.
"Goodnight buddy," Mitch said. Guess well have to talk tomorrow.
Across town, Lynn fought the insomnia brought on by worry. She had purposely avoided checking for messages at the front desk, opting to kill some time by taking Kelly to dinner at the hotels informal restaurant by the pool. The low key meal had helped calm her down, but as she munched on one of Kellys fries Lynn realized she had stalled as long as she could. Shed have to meet with Nick tomorrow, since pushing his patience any longer might set him off.
Kelly was too tired for a bath so Lynn put her daughter right to bed. Kissing her goodnight, she shut the door of the suites second bedroom, and started to peel away the layers of pretense, washing her face, brushing her hair into a ponytail and replacing her suit with a worn cotton nightgown. Bed. At last. Sleep would do her good, she thought, reaching to switch off the lamp, when she saw the blinking message light on the phone. Shit. Shit..SHIT! Gritting her teeth, she hit the retrieve messages button and braced herself for what she knew was to come..
Message one. One thirty p.m.: "Hey babe.. youre not avoiding me are you? <laughing> You there? Gimme a call when you get this.." Click.
Wow, he sounded pretty coolheaded. Thats good. Okay next message.
Message two. Five ten p.m.: "Yeah its Nick. Youre starting to piss me off Lynnie. I want that roll of film. Call me damn it." Click.
Shit. She was in deep trouble. She should have called and picked up her messages from her mothers house.
Message three. Six forty five p.m. "Lynn, its Mitch. Where are you? We were supposed to take Kelly riding again at Krystals. Guess you forgot. I would really appreciate a call to let me know Kellys ok. Call me." Click. Yeah whatever Mitch, Lynn thought. Ill deal with you tomorrow.
Message four. Nine p.m.: "Youre messin with the wrong guy," Nick said, clearly agitated. Lynn could tell he had called from the Dusk To Dawn because of all the noise in the background. "Youre lucky Im at work or Id be over there right now takin whats mine. Youd better fuckin call me bitch or youll be sorry." Click.
What do I do now? Lynn thought, hands shaking as she dialed Nicks motel. Shed better call him and calm him down. The last thing she needed was a surprise late night visit from an enraged Nick, especially with Kelly in the other room.
"Nick? Its Lynn.."
"Where the HELL have you been?! You better not be avoiding me or I swear.."
"No..no, baby, I was at my mothers house, thats all, just got back now.."
"Dont fuck with me bitch.."
"Im not, dont be silly. I have the roll of film right here, safe and sound."
"That does me no good. I want it. And I want it first thing tomorrow."
"Great.." Lynn stammered. "When and where..?"
"Here at the motel.."
Oh shit. The last thing she wanted was to go back to that motel. "The motel?"
"Yeah," Nick said, chugging some beer, "is that a problem? Cuz if it is, I can always go over there now.."
"No, no.. the motels fine," Lynn lied. "What time?"
"Noon. Sharp. Or Ill come looking for ya and you wont be happy to see me.."
see you tomorrow.." Lynn slammed down the receiver. What was she going to do now?
* * * * *
1998 Susana Audrain and Richard Tingle All rights reserved, which includes the right to reproduce this
or portions thereof in any form whatsoever except as provided by the U.S. Copyright Law.