The Inside Out

by LA Tucker

Part XIV:  Such As We Are Made Of,  Such We Be

For disclaimers, see Part I

It was an architectural landscape so looming and vast, and so out of sync with Chloe's own collegiate experience, she felt that she had happened on a small town instead of a university campus.  USC seemed to stretch for miles in all directions, and in reality, it did. She was positive that she'd never find her way around to the campus bookstore where she'd  planned to buy some souvenirs for the D' Amico family. Or, as she found out after inquiring from several students lounging together on a lush lawn in front of a massive building, one of the many bookstores to be found on the sprawling grounds of the behemoth of education that was the University of Southern California.

She'd quite easily spotted the mammoth Coliseum after getting turned around and lost a mere three times, and finally successfully parked her car in the acreage of the car lot there.  After obtaining a guest card she followed a tour group inside of the enormous, storied structure, figuring that would bring her out into the stands.  She lagged a bit behind on purpose so she could feel more the explorer, and after walking up darkened corridors that seemed to pull her higher and higher into the unknown, she emerged from out of a tunneled archway into the suddenly bright sunshine to view the empty stadium from the highest point, and she had to gulp back her surprise at what she saw in front of her.  The anticipation and the climb combined with the immensity of the view left her feeling breathless.  The field way down below her was dotted with a few football players at practice, and other athletes busy doing warm up stretches or running laps around the track, and they appeared as small to her as the people on her 13 inch color TV.  She slowly scanned from end zone to end zone, trying to imagine this place filled with 70,000 screaming fans, with a couple of marching bands thrown in to add to the pandemonium. She squinted into the sky, expecting to see a Goodyear blimp float on by.  Since she was never at a loss for imagination, her mind boggled at the thought that Nelson could be throwing a football half the length of this magnificent green field, and actually have a non-nincompoop wide receiver capable of catching the ball run it into the end for a quick six points.  Or Nelson scrambling for his life and then launching a Hail Mary pass that would give the USC Trojans the win with only seconds to spare.  She forgot, for a  quiet daydreaming moment, that Nelson seemed to want his life to go into another direction, away from this athletic field of play, and work on being able to act in plays.  She knew he was a gifted athlete, and she was torn, wanting to see him succeed here in this landmark stadium that seemed as large to her as all of Lake Ontario.

She dawdled there in the empty stands, after purposely ditching the student tour guide and excited wide eyed parents armed with camcorders and bags of USC souvenirs. She stealthily moved from level to level, seat to seat, and more than an hour passed as she played out an imaginary game with Nelson at the helm . The cheerleaders were cheering, the band was whomping through the school fight song after every touchdown, and Nelson was being hoisted on joyful teammates shoulders after completing a graceful quarterback sneak that turned out to be the game winner.  She pictured the young man and his helmeted comrades overturning the traditional Gatorade ice chest over a shocked and then beaming head coach.  She smiled at the sheer wondrous possibility of it all, and for the first time in a couple of days, she was truly pleased at her decision to make this trip to California.  Even if Nelson never made an impression here with his football talents, she knew that if he was only a mere spectator in the stands during a game, it would be an experience that he would remember and treasure all his life.  She became more pleased and a little envious of him, and finally came to grips with this campus being the place where he would be living for the next few years, having an adventure that he truly deserved to experience.

She left the Coliseum after memorizing as much of it as she could, so she could recall the feel of it, the painted cardinal and gold cement of the ramps leading her downward again, the ever present symbols of USC Trojan pride and banners of accomplishment placed on nearly every overhang and flat surface.  She stopped after reaching the outside area again, and craned her neck to look up at it, and smiled a satisfied smile.  She looked wistfully around her, remembering the joys of her days in college, of how it felt like a home to her after four years there, and how proud she had been to have partaken of the whole experience.  She decided right then and there to attend her 10th year reunion festivities at Penn Catholic.  She had haughtily skipped her 5 year reunion, with some uppity notion that she had outgrown the whole silly college alma mater thing.  Now she realized that a home, no matter where it turned out to be, was not something she should dismiss so lightly.

She left her car parked there, and with campus map secured in her backpack, she hopped a campus shuttle to take her into the the area she wanted to see next. She eventually jumped off when she felt that she was getting close, and took to walking instead.

The coolness and relative darkness of the small Scene Dock Theatre was a familiar balm to her, the interior of a theater being one of the most welcoming and exciting places on earth to her soul.  The venue itself was intimate, made for small productions.  She'd read it was a small auxiliary theater, holding no more than a hundred theatergoers per performance. It was everything that a theater should be, the seats set perfectly around the perfunctory and unobtrusive stage, the soft spot shining on and highlighting several students practicing their lines.  She sat down in a seat around ten rows back, and to the right of center, hoping that her presence there would not be intrusive to the actors on the stage. After settling in, it   took her less than a minute to recognize the source of the dialogue being rehearsed. It was from the musical comedy 'How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying', one that had always been a particular favorite of hers.  She'd never actually participated in a production of it, but had considered it many times as an option for her seniors to perform.

As she hunkered back into the comfortable seat,  she watched carefully as the students went through the scene. She was soon caught up in it, and somewhere in the back of her brain, she began to automatically critique each student's abilities to the pro or con. The leading man was handsome enough, but also just enough of a regular Joe to make him seem believable as wide-eyed neophyte in the business world.  The young woman acting the innocent ingenue's part was particularly effective, and hit all the right tones as she delivered her lines. They worked the ten minute scene several times in succession, pausing and then resuming after responding to a disembodied voice that rang through the theater with just a one word direction each time. "Again!"  The first time Chloe heard that directive, she jumped a little at the ghostly quality of it, and searched the stage in front of her for its source, and then around the dim theater without success.  Perhaps the director was up in that tiny projection booth that she spied, watching it all with the austere authority of the Wizard of Oz.

She became caught up in the loose rehearsal process, mentally noting that the young woman's performance of her lines improved slightly in confidence and how she injected minor facial expressions and subtle body language in each run of the scene.  But she became increasingly disappointed with the male lead, who didn't noticeably alter his own performance in response in each repetition of the scene. Each time he acted, rather than reacting, in a spit and polish carbon copy of the previous go round, not improving his performance one bit along the way. She felt herself getting a little irritated when no directorial help came from the disembodied voice in the rafters and she had to stifle the impulse to stand up and just simply do it herself.  The scene started again, and Chloe grew glum watching it, and itched to just stop the whole thing so she could lend her own brand of a helping hand.  She thought about leaving, but was too fascinated with the whole process and with the lead woman's improvements, so she stayed, intrigued but certainly grumpy.

As she watched the scene unfold again, she felt the presence of a body settle in not far from her, two seats away in the same aisle.  She looked over to see a rumpled older man who needed a shave nod cursorily at her, and she returned the nod before she looked back to the stage again. The scene progressed along as usual, and Chloe, now completely disconcerted with the lead actor, found herself uttering a critique out loud.

"He's got it all wrong." she blurted out, having forgotten about the man just two seats away.

"Yeah. He sure does."  The man said in a low reply.

Chloe's head shot around, and she whispered, "I'm sorry! It just came out."

The man grinned at her, finding her much more intriguing than what was happening on the stage. "Don't be. The kid just doesn't have it for the role, that's easy to see."

Chloe shook her head. "No, but he does! That's what makes it so irritating. He could, but he's approaching it all wrong."

The man rubbed his two day growth of beard thoughtfully as he looked carefully at Chloe, and noted that even in this dim light, she looked like a grad student, and her adamant earnest way of speaking, even in low tones, was charming. He stood up from his seat, and hesitated slightly as he pointed to the seat next to her. She nodded her agreement, and he settled in next to her. He dipped his head, and spoke as quietly as he could.  "You were saying? Not approaching it right? "

Chloe decided that this man must have wandered into the theater this afternoon just like she had, maybe he had a kid who was a drama major. Whatever the case, she welcomed the opportunity to share the thoughts she had been mulling over with another theater enthusiast. "His part, well, he's supposed to be an innocent, caught up in the whirlwind of the events going on all around him. He's supposed to be a step or two behind -- never quite catching on to what's going on until it's already happened, and there's nothing he can do it about it.  But this guy," and she pointed the young man on the stage inconspicuously, "must have come straight from the Charlie Sheen Smirk School of Acting. He's continuously playing it like he's in on the joke, instead of being bewildered by each change in the chain of events. Look, coming up right now, in these lines."

They both returned their attention to the stage, and listened and watched as the young man delivered his lines and reactions to the actors around him. The young man had a hint  of a self assured smile on his face,  and if he had been truly a terrible actor, which he wasn't, he would have gone to hammy extremes and rolled his eyes.

The man next to her took it in for a moment or two, and then rubbed his hands together thoughtfully. "Charlie Sheen, huh? I see what you mean.  Great way of putting it."  He smiled at her and then totally ignored what was happening on the stage.  This young woman seemed much more interesting, if not a little opinionated. He tilted his head towards hers again. "You a student here? Grad school? Drama major?"

Chloe snorted. "Nah, just wandered in. I'm from Pennsylvania. I teach drama part time at the local high school, direct the senior plays."

The man cracked an amused smile. "Just a tourist, huh?  USC isn't usually a stop for tourists unless you have a kid here. And unless you had a baby at say ... eight or nine ... then you must be curious about coming here yourself? Grad work?"

She was rather startled about the man's assumptions, and got bashful for a moment. "No, my... nephew ... Nelson, he'll be coming here next week.  Drama major, part football phenomenon.  I came out here because, well, I wanted to see where he'd be spending his time. You know, getting a lay of the land. Plus, well, I've never actually been to California. So, here I am."

The man nodded. "He any good?"

"At the football or the acting?"  Chloe laughed quietly, and leaned in closer to the friendly man so she wouldn't disturb the rehearsal progressing up on the stage . "Both.  He's amazing, actually, a director's dream. Takes direction and internalizes it, but puts his own spin and expands on things. He's pretty new at it, but I've seen a lot of kids come and go, and I've never even come close to saying someone was a 'natural'. But Nelson, he's got it all. Looks, desire, rough ability, a wonderful singing voice, he doesn't trip over his feet, and he's got some kind of magnetism that just can't be manufactured. Plus he's a damned wonderful guy."

The man split a smile over Chloe's unfettered enthusiasm. "Sounds like he should be the leading man in this play.  This is just a workshop, with assigned roles, but we were thinking of adding it to the line-up for next year, perhaps in the fall."

Chloe blinked in surprise. "You're the director?" Oh God, help me pull my foot out of my mouth. Here I am, spouting off to a director in one of the leading drama schools in the country. "I'm sorry, I should have never opened my mouth. I'm so opinionated, and things just start flying out without me being able to stop them. Well ... obviously." She rubbed a hand across her forehead, instantly regretting her outspokenness.

The man rumbled out a low laugh, and patted her arm reassuringly. "No problem. You seem very intuitive, and I bet your productions could teach me a thing or two. Or better yet, maybe you should come out here and get into school, get your grad degree, and take my place. I'm not the director, per se. I'm on the faculty here, so yeah, I direct stuff, but I also teach."  He noted the surprised expression on the redblonde's face. "May I ask what you do for a living? You can get by on part time teaching?"

"Librarian." Chloe answered, and for the first time in her life she felt a small sense of disappointment when mentioning her chosen profession.

The man studied her a moment before he replied. "Librarian. Books. Fiction. Drama. Seems like a natural progression. Did you act, do you now?"

Chloe nodded, her natural enthusiasm slowly returning and overcoming her misplaced embarrassment. "I was so awful. I always ended up trying to give tips to the other actors, trying to help them out instead of concentrating on my own role.  If they missed their mark, even by a few inches, it ended up screwing my performance up. All I could think about was how it would look to the audience, how they might miss something if someone delivered their line in the wrong direction, with the wrong inflection, if they didn't have a grip on their character or the motivations. All the little nagging nuances. Do you know what I mean?"

The director chortled. "You know it.  Some of us were born to act, while of some of us were born to make actor's lives miserable. That's the great secret bonus of being a director!" He saw her face twist into a grin of agreement.  "I was always a hack actor at best. I found my true calling."  He again studied Chloe's expressive face. "Have you found yours yet, Miss Librarian?"

Chloe took a moment to gather her thoughts, and she took another look around the small theater as she formed her reply. "Well, now that you mention it, and since I've seen it out here, and well ...  sometimes a person's life just doesn't go the way they think it should, does it?"  She saw the look of understanding in his eyes. "Well, thank you. You've given me something to think about. Not like I don't have enough to think about already, but this particular idea is kind of interesting." She paused, and then bit her lip before continuing. " Can I ask you something?"

He lifted his hand, his eyes asking her for a moment. He spoke loudly to the actors on the stage, who had finished the scene only moments earlier. "Take ten, everyone. And when you get back, I need to talk to Justin there, OK?  Then we'll review the videotape of what you've done and we'll try a couple of different approaches to the scene now that you're all comfortable with it. "  He watched them walk off the stage, and then turned his attention to Chloe again. "OK, shoot. Ask away."

"Did you ever do anything else, I mean, as a profession?"

"I was a struggling actor for years. I was the maitre d' for a ritzy restaurant in Bel Air for three years, until I found out that I wasn't going to get discovered. I kept going to school the whole time, getting my degrees and dreaming. Always dreaming. I eventually became an associate professor here, and four years ago, I got tenure. I'm 44 years old now, and happy as I'd ever hoped I'd be.  It's a pain sometimes, but I just can't seem to get away from it, I wake up in the morning looking forward to every forgotten line, bad singer and overzealous and cocky actor that I come into contact with. I'm not saying you can just wake up and have a job like mine. It takes a lot of time and work and really bad productions. I don't suppose I'll be here much longer, I'm not bragging, but I've gotten offers from the Guthrie in Minneapolis and a few inquiries about directing something that's so far off Broadway that it's in Maine." He laughed at his little joke. "I'm going to take a sabbatical next year and do something away from here. I have to make my mind up pretty soon. I really need to do that because along with my dreams, I have aspirations, too. It's just my ego. But hell, my ego has gotten me this far." He decided to challenge her by asking, "How's your ego?"

Chloe had been trying to imagine herself as the director of something a little more polished and professional than the Fort Lafayette auditorium. For some reason, it didn't seem like that much of a stretch.  It occurred to her that it seemed perfectly natural to envision herself that way, want to see herself as a dedicated and full time theater professional  Her face brightened, and she sat up a little straighter in her seat, and gave him a delighted smile. "You know what?  After denying for years that I even had an ego, it seems that I do have one. This is so great." She saw that he wasn't comprehending what she was trying to say. "I've been setting limits on myself, refusing to dream big. Maybe it's about time to do that."

"Maybe it is.  You may not get to direct on Broadway, but it wouldn't hurt to set your sights a little higher, would it?"

Chloe bit her lower lip, and gazed off to the empty stage, where her eyes became unfocused as she took in the soft resonance of the spotlight. She shook her head back and forth just slightly. "Nope. Wouldn't hurt at all."

Chloe had another mission to accomplish before she hopped a shuttle to get back to her car. She crossed more sidewalks, parking lots, soccer fields, administration buildings, tall dorm structures that looked larger than her Holiday Inn, and she quickened her pace when she saw and immediately recognized a Lesbian Mecca directly in front of her. A softball field lay ahead, with many, many women playing a pick-up game in the late afternoon sunshine.  She made her way to sit in the lower level bleachers, breathless and inordinately pleased that she could sit down in the sun and ogle some impressive twentysomethings while she rested her legs. As she watched the game progress, she tried to mentally pick out the ones that 'were', versus the ones that 'weren't', and then put quite a few in the category of 'if she ain't, she oughta be'.  Then she giggled to herself, remembering her own softball days when during her sophomore year, she had a boyfriend cheering her from the stands. By the time her junior year rolled around, she had Sandy yelling enthusiastically for every line drive she caught, each bloop single she banged out or bunt she successfully laid down.  She got a few curious and interested looks from the other attendees in the stands here today, but she ignored it, preferring to keep her attention on the game itself. She wanted to immerse herself watching women she perceived were lesbians, even if a few of the truly weren't, or weren't as yet.

The game ended, and Chloe stayed on the bench, watching curiously to see how the players might pair off with each other.  A lithe butch pitcher surprised her by walking off to smooch a burly man who was waiting for her by the third base line.  Wrongo.  She ticked her off her list as an understandable bad guess.  The spry shortstop, who looked like a young and delicate Cybill Shepard, got a hearty slap on her rear end from the third baseman, and her hand lingered there a little too long to be merely a congratulatory thwack. One right, one wrong.

Chloe laughed out loud as she grabbed her bottle of water and made her way down the few short steps onto the ground.  That hand lingering on the shortstop's bum reminded her of how Sara was so appreciative of her own backside, always finding a reason to help the height impaired woman along by placing a large hand across her butt to help steady her on the library stepstool, or into the high cab of Nelson's truck.  She could almost feel a warm imprint back there as she wandered off directly across the diamond, stopping at one point to dip two fingers deeply along the first base line's chalk to get a feel for it as she rubbed some softly between her fingers.  She then held a powdered finger under her nostril, and sniffed deeply, its soft talcy smell triggering memories about her days on the softball field. It was just a moment later that she realized she had an audience of one behind her.

She blushed, and recognized the right fielder for the losing team, a strapping and attractive androgynous woman with intense almond shaped eyes, her shoulder length dark brown hair still pulled back into a tight ponytail.

The woman grinned at her playfully. "Either you've played, and you miss it, or you're the dumbest cocaine addict on the face of the earth."

Chloe, flustered, wiped the white chalk onto her shorts in an effort to clean it off of her fingers, resulting in white lines across the dark material.  She looked down at the messy results. "Actually, I think I'm pretending I'm a human chalkboard." She realized that she had done it again, made an ass out of herself, and she groaned.  She blushed again, and her embarrassed and nervous hand then took a swipe through her shaggy locks, leaving fingered white trails across her forehead and into her hair. "OK, lets just decide that I'm the dumbest chalk addict you'll ever meet, and leave it at that. Good lord."

The athlete laughed and smiled at her. When Chloe returned the smile, the outfielder took that as an instant invitation to brazenly scan Chloe's form from top to bottom and then back again.  The slow and sizzling examination couldn't be mistaken for anything else but a blatant and appreciative interest of what she saw in front of her.

Whoa.  They never did that at my college. And in broad daylight, no less. Chloe cleared her throat, and decided that travel away from Pennsylvania was a very, very enlightening experience. "I don't suppose you could direct me to a bookstore somewhere nearby, I've kind of lost my way."  She waved her rumpled map at her in explanation.

The woman sidled up to her, and lightly placed a hand on Chloe's shoulder in order to turn her around. But the hand remained there as they turned together to face in the opposite way.  Chloe became quite aware of that warm hand resting on her anatomy and became just a little, tiny, eensy weensy bit intrigued. She just barely heard the directions that the young woman spoke close to her ear, as her attention was acutely focused on the pressure of the woman's hand, its not so subtle tightening, then stroking the muscles of her shoulder, a stray finger stretching to gently touch the ends of her hair. Chloe's heartbeat rose in response to the woman's attentions, and she took a deep breath and closed her eyes tightly.

Chloe snapped out of it, and forced a smile when a frown really wanted to form on her lips. Pay attention, Chloe.  This is no time for the Kissing Bandit to make an appearance.  Then the woman made a pointed and provocative comment about her dorm room being right along the same direction that Chloe had to travel. That really woke Chloe up out of her mesmerized stupor, and she moved away, breaking the tentative physical contact between them.

The woman stepped back, eyeing Chloe closely, a disappointed frown flitting across her face. "I thought you were a player," she said, not too cryptically.

Chloe intuitively knew exactly what she was implying, and only took a moment to come up with her own meaningful comeback. "Those days are over."  Rather than prolong this tantalizing encounter, she stayed just long enough to watch the nod of understanding that was returned.  She smiled again, and feeling much more confident than she had in days, she walked away from the lines of chalk, the green grass of the diamond and the evening of casual sex that had been placed so enticingly in front of her.

"A straight line, Marcy. Are you too much of an artiste to know what a straight line is?"

Marcy cuffed Sara on the back of the head. "Shut up. I've never done this before."

Sara turned in the high stool she was sitting in, and gave Marcy a threatening glare. "Just do it. It won't kill ya."  She shifted around again, and tried to sit up straighter.

Marcy stared at the back of Sara's head. "What if it turns out crooked? What then? Will you kill me then?"

Sara didn't bother to turn around again. "Listen, you really need to worry when you get to my bangs. Cutting that back there, well, it'll give you some practice for the really scary part."  She grinned to herself, and waited for Marcy to answer.

Instead, Marcy grunted, and ran the comb through her long hair again and again. "How much again?"

Sara sighed. They had already been through this. "About an inch, just to get rid of the split ends. Go for it. Pretend I'm a work of art or something."

"Oh, you're a piece of work alright, D'Amico."

Nelson entered the kitchen, walked directly in front of them both to get to the refrigerator, grabbed a bottle of water from it, and still ignoring both of them, walked back outside again.

Sara shuddered. "Did you just feel a cold breeze go through here?"

Marcy began running the comb through Sara's hair in short strokes. Maybe if she kept Sara talking, she'd forget about the freebie hair trim she'd pressed Marcy into performing. "He's still not talking to you?"

Sara nodded. "I tried to apologize in the barn earlier today. He just walked away.  I'll be damned if I'm going to chase him. He's old enough to accept an apology."

Marcy put the comb in her left hand, and reached for the scissors, and held them up to examine them thoughtfully. "Yeah, we know how good you are at accepting apologies. Like you have room to talk.  Now, now, hold still, I've got a sharp instrument near your head and unless you want the world's cheapest lobotomy, I suggest you hold yer fat head still."

Sara didn't like not being able to nail Marcy with a sarcastic look. She sighed, and picked up the copy of her Stevens' Ford contract from her lap, and flipped it open to the top page.  The writing was awfully small. She held it closer, and dipped her head just as Marcy was nervously aiming to make her first few snips.

Another thwap to the back of Sara's head. "Ow!"

"Well, keep your head up, and quit squirreling around. I was just about to start on my masterpiece."

Sara raised her head again, and wasted her best disgusted glare on the very unimpressed microwave across the kitchen. "I want to read over this contract. I never had the chance the other day. I was sort of out of it."  She felt the first cut of the scissors as they closed. "It's about time. I thought it would grow another inch before you got your nerve up."  All she heard was a growl of concentration from Marcy, and more cutting noises. She kept her head still, and lifted the contract out in front of her,  straightening her arms out, then slowly bringing the contract closer to her until it became more focused. Then she moved it away again, then closer, then closer yet. Marcy, who had taken a quick break from the cutting, and was switching comb and scissors hands again, noticed the conniptions Sara was going through with the contract.

"Sara?" Marcy said as she ran the comb through the ends of her hair again. "Do you always read like that?"

"Like what?" Sara replied impatiently.  She detested getting her hair cut, and she hated the fact that the secretary at Steven's Ford apparently had an affinity for the world's smallest fonts. She moved the contract in even closer, until it was inches from her nose.

"Like you're inspecting the paper for hidden messages."

Sara sputtered under her breath, "Damned small print. What, like they couldn't use a bigger type and use a couple more sheets of paper to print it out on? "

Marcy took a full step away from Sara and angled herself so she could see the contract over Sara's shoulder. "Agreement is made this 22nd day of August... " she began reading aloud. She took another large step back, and continued. "by and between Sara Marie D'Amico of 13317 Vineyard Row, Route 20, Stonecreek, PA, and Stevens' Ford Motor Car Sales Unlimited ..."

Sara blinked, and then swiveled around to see Marcy standing a good five feet behind her. "How'd you do that? Do you have super vision or something?" she asked incredulously.

"Nope. 20/20.  Just had it checked a month ago."  Marcy hesitated before she continued, but considered herself safe because she still had possession of the scissors. If she had to run with scissors, so be it. "When's the last time YOU had your eyes checked?"

The eyes in question opened wide. "There's nothing wrong with my eyes. Not a thing. I just .. it just ...", and she waved the papers at Marcy who was giving her an apologetic smile mixed with a little bit of sympathy, "They just ... aw, DAMMIT!"  She tossed the contract onto the nearby table, turned, straightened up and folded her arms in irritation.

Marcy gingerly moved up on her again, and gently began running the comb through Sara's hair once more.  Quiet came over the kitchen, and Marcy finished her task to her own satisfaction before she spoke again. "Sara. You're 36. It happens."

Sara's shoulders raised up high, and then lowered slowly. She very softly and without any trace of real malice replied, "Fuck you, Marcy."

Marcy smiled. "Right back atcha, Four Eyes."

"But I thought you hated Sara D'Amico," Julia grunted out as she pulled another box from the back of the borrowed pick up truck to haul into her townhouse.

"I do."  Audra had a lamp, toaster and wastebasket in her hands, and two bed pillows tucked under her arms as she followed behind her friend. Damned if she was going to make more trips than necessary in this god awful heat.

"Then why the hell did you agree to help her?"

They made it through the front door, and tossed everything wherever there was free space. Later they would move it upstairs to Audra's bedroom and other parts of the house but right now they wanted to get the truck back as soon as possible. "Because Doris Raeburn, the principal, had it all plotted out before either one of us knew what was up.  She figured Sara needed an assistant, I was the likely candidate, and I practically got dared into it by that black haired witch, and since I'm the world's dumbest shit, I couldn't say no."  She took a swig of water out of her bottle, and noticed that Julia was grinning at her. "What?"

"It's going to turn into World War III, I just know it."

"Nah, it won't. I won't let it."

"Since when?  From what you tell me about how Sara affects you, you're bound to snap and take a swing at her before this is all over with."

Audra wiggled her eyebrows at Julia. "Nope, if someone snaps, it'll be her, not me. I know better.  Besides, if Chloe found out that I tried to harm her moose of a girlfriend in any way, she'd never talk to me again."

Julia sighed. This kind of talk was bordering on the juvenile to her. She shook her head disapprovingly. "So, are you planning on being an adult then, finally?  Finally decided to give up on this crush on Chloe Donahue?  I thought you kind of liked that new woman, Sandy Baker."  I hoped you would like me.  "What about her?  Are you sure that if you do something to screw up Chloe and Sara, Chloe won't just run back into her old girlfriend's arms?  This could all backfire, you know."

"Sandy Baker? Well, you're right, Julia. But you're wrong, too.  That's my plan. I'm going to drive Chloe right back into Sandy's arms again, and then when THAT screws up, I'll be the only good guy left."

Julia shook her head. "What?  I'm not following you."  But she did, out the front door, and back to the rear of the truck again.

Audra grabbed another box, and settled it into Julia's arms. "I saw how Sandy was looking at her the other day.  It was weird. And I won't have to do a thing, really, when you think about it. Sara's overblown ego won't be able to handle having an ex around her sweet Chloe, and Sara will screw it up.  I don't know what will happen then, I'll have to play it by ear. But I have a feeling that Chloe and Sandy have some unsettled issues.  I don't think either one of them wanted to break it off, it was just a matter of logistics, you know, Chloe not wanting to move to California, Sandy not wanting to move here.  But since they'll both be in the same place, well, that little matter of acreage between them won't matter much, will it?  A few looks, some meaningful glances, the pull of an old love that shouldn't have died ,,,"

Julia was glad the box in her arms was light. She adjusted her grip on it, and frowned. "You should write for the soaps, Audra. So, if Chloe breaks up with Sara, and goes back to Sandy, then won't you just be odd dyke out again?"

Audra grinned conspiratorially. "Well, let's see. Not if I get to Sandy Baker first."


"Yeah." Audra leaned in and shifted a few boxes closer to her, and then hefted one into her arms. Her voice took on a Rod Serling, Twilight Zone quality, as she stared off into space, retrieving her scheme from whatever alien planet she had stored it on.  "Now try and imagine this.  Chloe and Sara begin to have big problems because Sandy is around. Meanwhile, I've already begun romancing Ms. Baker. Sara does something monumentally stupid - it's inevitable, knowing what a jealous hothead she is - so Chloe runs to ol' Sandy for comfort.  Sandy guiltily informs her that she's been seeing me. Chloe gets all confused -- she does that, I know her, nobody does 'confused' like Chloe does.  Meanwhile, somehow, I haven't figured it out yet, I end up needing comforted because of all the heartache I'm experiencing because of that horrible Sandy Baker, who apparently was just leading me on. Chloe and I end up in mutual comforting zone, and well, then, you know how the hurt/ comfort scenario is supposed to play out. Well, that's the plan. I don't know, I'm going to have to improvise as I go along. But meanwhile, I'll be monitoring the situation as it unfolds, by being right at the elbow of Sara D'Amico."

Julia sighed, and eyed her new housemate speculatively, not sure if this cohabitation with such an obsessed ... borderline nutcase was such a good idea after all.. "Can I ask you something, roomie?"

"Sure." Audra shrugged.

"Do you stay up nights thinking this shit up?"

"Well," laughed Audra as they both began moving towards the house again. "As a matter of fact, I do."

Continued in Part XV

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