“Have you heard of Chekov?” The Sheriff with the great gray beard asked Ralph.
Even with the rain starting to sprinkle and fall like a mist around them, the firefighters were having a problem fighting the growing flames; the cottage being old and wooden, not yet daring to enter the building. Actually, the seasonal rain mixed with the flames created a warm almost smoke-filled fog in the air. Ralph couldn’t say why but he liked the smell of it. It was the only thing he liked, of course. Piece by piece, treasure by treasure, Ralph was watching his past disappear not all at once, but in moments, one at a time; like little flashbacks a person may experience on a deathbed. As each room disappeared, each ceiling fell in, he thought about what was in that room. It was all going away…
…Then there was the matter of the handcuffs.
“Chekov?” The hairy Sheriff asked again. He looked almost like some kind of a Santa Claus. He even had the belly for it.
“What are you talking about? Who is Chekov? Do you mean Star Trek?” Ralph was angry at the fact that “Santa” was talking to him, distracting him from the end of his world.
The Sheriff chuckled under his breath (it was not a “Ho Ho Ho”), “No, I don’t mean Star Trek.” Ralph looked away from the ruins of his home and was startled to see that the Sheriff was playing with his grandfather’s gun. He was slowly in the process of emptying it, doing his best not to break it as he spoke. He knew his way around the weapon and had a loving touch with the firearm. “Well, the Chekov I’m talking about is a writer…”
“Please don’t talk to me about writers,” Ralph interrupted, glancing back at the blaze. “I’m done with the arts. I’ve had my fill.”
The Sheriff looked over at Ralph and Ralph had no choice but to turn back to him, feeling those sharp and demanding eyes on the back of his head. There was a cross expression forming over his face, or at least that is what Ralph thought it was, it was hard to tell through the beard. “I have to point out that in those handcuffs you really aren’t in a position to argue with me. Don’t you agree?”
Ralph pleaded, waving his wrists at the sheriff. “And why am I in them? I didn’t do anything?”
“So you didn’t threaten your guests with a loaded firearm?” The Sheriff asked, an eyebrow going up inquisitively. “This one in fact?” Ralph almost wondered if he was enjoying this performance.
Threaten… Ralph paused, the truth of the word sinking in. It sounded like a bad news story, and yet it was him. He did that. That is what people will hear about him; everyone will know about him. This day would follow him for the rest of his life and possibly even beyond. He looked over at Lilly, who was standing near the fire truck; not close enough to be near him, but close enough to hear everything. If he was hoping for comfort from her, he didn’t get it. Her emotionless face just continued to watch him, study him. Take in the image of the man she once considered a husband and a friend.
The Sheriff continued with a sigh, “All of your friends were very good with the story you came up with, but we…”
Ralph and Lilly both exclaimed together: “Mary!”
The Sheriff oddly sounded sincere and concerned, “Oh, I wouldn’t worry too much there about who. There has to be some questions, but with your family’s wealth and attorneys, I’m sure it won’t be long. Plus, I’ve something of my own to add to the facts. Now what was I saying? Yes, Chekov.” The Sheriff put the now empty gun on the hood of his squad car and leaned over to talk to Ralph, continuing his previous thought as if he was never interrupted. “Well, Chekov is more a playwright. He wrote The Cherry Orchard. Does that sound familiar to you?”
There was a loud crunch noise as a good chunk of the second floor fell in (some of the firemen swore out loud at the sight of it). While Ralph and Lilly both stared aghast at the new destruction, the Sheriff continued as if there wasn’t a fantastic inferno near them. “The Cherry Orchard is my favorite, but I also enjoyed The Seagull.”
Ralph had to look away; he couldn’t watch anymore. It was becoming too painful. His home… But the only other places he had to turn towards was either Lilly or the Sheriff. He chose the Sheriff with the great beard. “What?”
“Uncle who?” Ralph asked quickly.
The Sheriff leaned forward, and sniffed his breath. “How much did you have to drink?”
Ralph was flustered by the question, “Only a few glasses, not much. A few.”
“Are you drunk?” The Sheriff leaned further in; it was almost uncomfortable how close he was to him.
The Sheriff leaned back, resting his hands on the hood of the squad car. “Well, we’ll still do a test when we get in. Now keep up with me, lad, I’ve a point to make. I took one English class in college and the teacher discussed creative writing. Now this is thirty years ago, so you have to bear with me. I am going to paraphrase here, but Chekov the playwright, not the Enterprise officer, said something that stuck with me. And in moments like this it always comes back into my mind, like a song you can’t get out of your ear.” He paused, maybe he wanted to be dramatic, or maybe he wanted to see if Ralph would interrupt again (which he didn’t). He continued. “If a gun appears in the first act, it has to go off in the last act.”
“So what?” Ralph stammered out, and then pleaded, “Can I get my lawyer?”
The Sheriff didn’t answer Ralph, but looked over at Lilly, who took it as a sign to approach closer to them, but she would not do more than a few steps. There was something he wanted to say that he obviously wanted her to hear as well. The Sheriff tried to look Ralph in the eyes, but he wouldn’t let him, and kept trying to look away towards the road. It strangely made Ralph feel like a child being scolded by a parent. “Do you know why the firemen called me?”
“Because of Mary, it seems,” Ralph shouted back, a little too loudly.
The Sheriff did not seem insulted by the shout, if anything he seemed amused. “No, I mean me, specifically me?”
Ralph shook his head, an odd thought running through his mind which he amazingly had the guts to say aloud, “I’m on the naughty list this year?”
“Wrong answer, but the beard is the giveaway, you just went too far north when you should have gone south,” He ran his hands through it. “Hard to miss, isn’t it? Well, I do Civil War reenactments. The beard is part of my costume, the natural part. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” Ralph said, feeling a little insulted that he had been asked that question, and then a stark realization began to cross his mind. No, Lilly can’t know.
The Sheriff continued, “Okay, then. You’re listening a little. Well, they knew that I would know this firearm, know how to handle it. But what they didn’t know when they called me is that I also know your father and grandfather. You do know your grandfather used to do reenactments as well, right?
Ralph nodded slowly, he almost felt a little faint, happy that he was leaning back against the car; certain he couldn’t have stood on his own two feet right then.
The Sheriff actually chortled first, not noticing (or caring) about how pale Ralph looked as he pressed on, “Your grandfather, the first Ralph Mason, always had to play Lee. No one else, just him. He even had his horse dyed once to look like Lee’s. Oh, he would be a hard taskmaster back then, but I’m guessing you already know about how hard a man he was. And I’m also guessing, because of my time with the old man, that he made sure to teach you everything possible about this relic. He wouldn’t have left it to anyone but an expert.” He patted his hand on the gun.
“I want my lawyer,” Ralph gasped out. “Please stop.”
The Sheriff paused considering Ralph’s plea, looked once towards Lilly (Ralph was certain that he was making sure she could hear), and then finally made his decision. “You weren’t really pointing this gun at anyone.”
“What?” Ralph exclaimed. “No, I was… I…”
“Sir,” Lilly said stepping forward, interrupting, “What are you saying?”
“Oh, let me correct myself,” the Sheriff said and his voice almost seemed kind then, returning to the image of St. Nick in a uniform. “He was only pointing the gun at one person at your party, only one… Ralph Mason the third. He had loaded it wrong, you see. If this had gone off, he would’ve been either maimed or killed.” He looked to Ralph, who was now hanging his head, staring at the ground at his face. “It would’ve been such a painful way to die. But I think you already know all of this, don’t you, Ralph?”
“I don’t care,” Ralph whispered.
Well, some might care to know that,” The Sheriff said, giving an almost too quick glance to Lilly. “So, as I was saying about Chekov; you’re lucky life is not a story, Ralph. So very lucky.” He picked up the gun again, and walked with it around Ralph, towards the passenger side of his car, placing it almost lovingly on the seat. He continued to speak as he did this, “If life was a story you’d be dead.”
Lilly took another step hesitatingly closer. “Are you saying he was attempting to commit suicide?”
The Sheriff didn’t reply to that, only putting his hand on Ralph’s shoulder. “I think it’s time we head to the station.”
Ralph didn’t fight with him, no longer having the energy, as he was directed into the backseat. It was when the door shut and Ralph was alone in the car, so very alone, that Lilly finally approached him. Their eyes met, and for some reason Ralph could not explain, they both placed their hands on the window. For others it would have been considered sweet, for others it would have been thought of as endearing, but Ralph knew what it meant for them… He knew it in his heart.
He would not see Lilly again.
It was a goodbye.
And when the Sheriff opened his door loudly, the moment was lost. Ralph looked to the front quickly and when he turned back, Lilly had already spun around, leaving. Ralph watched her walk away for as long as he could stand it and then leaned back in his seat, feeling so very, very tired.
With very little grace, the heavy Sheriff plopped down in the front seat and adjusted his rearview mirror in such a way that his eyes could see Ralph in the backseat. Ralph had to fight every urge in his body from giving the Civil War Santa the finger.
“So Ralph,” the Sheriff asked pleasantly, “does your dad know you’re gay?”
I can’t believe you didn’t stick to the story, Mary,” Marty said disgusted, watching as the cop put Ralph in the backseat of his squad car. Seeing the handcuffs was surprising, but this formal departure made everything feel more tragically real. He watched as Lilly walked up to the door and placed her hand on it. He turned back to his sister then; feeling like the moment by the car was now too private, even from this distance. “Why, Mary?”
Mary sighed and then stated as if it was so obvious. “He was threatening us with a gun.”
“He never even aimed it at you.” Marty quickly pointed out.
“That’s beside the point,” Mary gripped the arm tighter of Gordon. “He did point it at my huggy bear though.”
Yes, that was true, Ralph did do that. But to Marty, it didn’t feel real, at least it didn’t feel like a threat when he thought back on it now. It had been an hour, only an hour, and yet it felt like so much had happened since then; the running from the cottage, the quick debate with everyone by the dock and now the waiting in the rain that felt like forever. The entire party was scattered around the lake awaiting the okay to leave (but not being able to also because of all of the firetrucks).
Ralph… With the cottage (his home and possessions), burning down and seeing him in a squad car, Marty felt so very sorry for him, guilty even, almost as if he was somehow to blame for his fall. And with that feeling, that thought, Marty could not help but feel embarrassed that it was sister that was to blame for part of it. Yes, for the first time Marty was embarrassed that she was his sibling; a weird change he had to take note of. “But we all agreed with the story, Mary. You were the only one, the only one. The Benedict Arnold.”
Mary shrugged her shoulders, not hurt at all by the pronouncement. “You know I was right to do it.”
“No, you weren’t right.” Marty quickly walked over to stand in front of her, the size of Gordon almost blocking Marty’s view now of the cottage. “We all agreed. You nodded your head too.”
“It was a fake nod,” she said defiantly, as they began to once again argue like children.
“You can’t fake a nod.”
“I did.” Mary said, letting go of Gordon and walking towards Marty, not giving an inch. “Look, I can do it now.” She nodded. “And here’s another.” She did it again. “I could go all day.”
“How can any of our friends trust you, trust me anymore?”
“Because of my nod?”
“Your nod of lies, yes. I’m guilty by association with your nod.”
She pointed at herself. “I own my nod.”
“If that was only true. Your nod affects all of us. It is the plague of nods.”
“Marty,” a voice said simply to their left, interrupting their argument. They both turned together, perfectly in unison to face Jenn. She did not look at all happy to be seeing them, and in her black with the rain and the clouds of smoke in the distance, she almost looked like a specter of death.
“Oh, look, Marty, it’s another of my ex-roommates you’ve made out with,” Mary stated, over dramatically.
Jenn glared at Mary, but spoke only to Marty. “Vince wants to see you.” She pointed across the lake to where Vince was standing all by himself.
Marty quickly looked towards Vince and back at Jenn, confusion overcoming him. “He wants to see me, why? I punched him and threatened his life.” A part of him wondered if Vince wanted to punch him now. Would that have even been fair? What would make things even now? Vince would need a girlfriend first, Marty thought evilly and almost a little excitedly.
“He didn’t say.” Jenn replied simply.
It was then, for the third time that day, Gordon spoke. “Just a second,” Gordon quietly said. “Before you leave Marty…. I would like you here for this.”
“I’m not going to see him,” Marty stated quickly. “I want nothing to do with Vince and…”
Gordon didn’t believe Marty. “Just don’t move for a minute.” It was then that Gordon got down on one knee in the wet sand in front of Mary and took a ring box out of his pocket.
“You can’t fucking be serious!” Marty exclaimed. Mary took a second to glare at her brother and then smiled happily at her huggy bear… It was all so perfectly on schedule. He didn’t even have to say a word to get her answer.
“Yes, yes, yes!” Mary responded happily and ran into her new fiancee’s arms, kissing all over his face until their lips met. Gordon got up quickly, picking her up almost a foot off the ground in the embrace, being so much taller than her.
Marty and Jenn glanced at each other, relieved to see the same look of annoyance and disgust on the other’s face. Marty turned back to his sister and Gordon, their embrace only increasing in its passion, and shouted, “You’ll look fat in your wedding dress!”
Marty paused trying to think of something else to add. “And… ah… I won’t be the best man no matter how many times you ask me.”
“Yes, you will,” Jenn whispered to Marty.
“I know that, shut up,” Marty mumbled back and spun to face Jenn. “Vince?”
Jenn pointed over towards Vince again and Marty began the long walk through the weeds and sand.
“Look over there,” Bob said pointing around the lake at Mary and Gordon. Gordon had just gotten to his one knee.
“He’s proposing?” Rebecca whispered, surprised. “Really after all of this, he’s proposing?” She couldn’t believe it. It felt so incredibly outside the realm of logic.
“Nothing more romantic than almost being incinerated it seems,” Bob replied.
They both laughed at that.
“Oh, look,” Rebecca said through the laugh as Gordon got up from his knee and picked up Mary. “That looks like a yes.”
Bob and Rebecca both looked at each other and said at the exact same time, “Idiots.” And with that they both started laughing again… and for Rebecca and Bob it felt almost strange to be doing it together. When was the last time they had laughed? Really laughed? Months ago? Maybe in winter? Even further ago? Before they tried to have a child?
Bob was the first to stop laughing, looking to his wife. “So what about us, Bec?” Bob asked. “We’re done, aren’t we?” It came out as a question, but really it wasn’t since they both knew the answer.
Rebecca did her best to smile as she said simply, “Yes.”
Bob walked up to Rebecca. “Are you sure?” He placed his hand lovingly on her arm.
She reached up and touched his face carefully, as one would a delicate possession. “Look at how much older you are Bob. We met when I was in college, remember? That was so long ago. And now… Look at the laugh lines by your eyes.” She traced the line by his right eye and then reached to his hair. “And your hair is thinner now as well. Oh, Bob. All that time.”
“Hey, you’re older too,” Bob responded, smiling a little, the difficult emotions hiding behind it.
“I know…” She said. “I feel it. I feel it in every inch of me. I’m not the person I once was. The person you fell in love with in college is gone, Bob. I don’t know where she is anymore. I can’t bring her back.” Even to her ears, it felt so very tragic to say, almost like breaking the news of a death.
“Then who is this standing here, it feels like my wife still. My professor.”
“Bob,” someone else spoke. They both turned, surprised to see Jenn standing in front of them, clearly having no idea what she was interrupting.
“Yes?” Bob asked annoyed, moving away from Rebecca. Reality returning to them, their goodbye having passed.
“He wants to see you,” she gestured her head back to Vince, over on another side of the lake. Rebecca could see that Marty was walking towards him and remembered that he had punched Vince earlier that day. Was he going to do it again? She ran her hands through her hair, and was surprised by how wet it already was from the mist and the light rain.
Bob was angry. He walked away from Rebecca, almost as if blaming Jenn for even the idea of it. “Vince! You can tell Vince that…”
“Bob will be there in a minute,” Rebecca stated, interrupting.
Jenn turned and continued her walk around the lake, taking that as answer enough.
Bob spun quickly back to Rebecca. “Bec, what are you doing?”
Rebecca wrapped her arms around herself, feeling cold. And it started off such a lovely day. “I know you Bob, if you don’t find out what he wants you’ll wonder your entire life. You need a new chapter. You need a new beginning.” She gestured towards Vince in the distance. “Go, start an adventure, Bob.”
Bob walked over to her and wrapped his arms around her. It was a big hug but it was not like the hug of lovers now… It was different, they could both tell. All of the arousal and the emotions were no longer there…
A page had been turned.
“I’m sorry,” Bob whispered in her ear.
“I know,” she replied, a little louder than him. “I’m sorry too.” It was not a lie, at that moment she was, she really was.
It was then that they ended their embrace and when Bob walked away… Rebecca noted that he did not look back once.
I was standing near the dock, staring at Stacey.
What was her problem?
I couldn’t figure her out, she had just had her life threatened, and there she was sitting on the end of the dock, her feet playfully dangling over the edge, casually watching the water, lost in a thought.
Not a soul looked more alone than her.
Selfishly, I began to relate it to myself, the old me. Is this how I was after Anna first left? I had to wonder. Is this how my friends saw me? This despondent, this lost in a memory?
I considered going up and talking to her, asking if she was okay but decided against it before I even took the first step. It all felt like so much work. Really I wanted nothing more to do than get in my car and go home… Of course, was my apartment really my home anymore? Everything had changed, and everything I once knew felt like the past, a dream that was finally over…
I contemplated the idea of going to my parents instead but that felt like too much work (they would have questions, a lot of questions). Damn it, it’ll have to be the apartment or nothing.
“Steve,” Jenn said. She was standing behind me. Honestly, I could sense she was there before she even spoke, but I didn’t want to acknowledge her, hoping that she would depart again, just go away. She felt like the past too. A remnant of the old Steve, the naive Steve before this party, before that Thursday night with Anna.
“Haven’t I yelled at you enough for one day?” I asked.
“I’m not here for me,” Jenn said.
“What does that mean?” I turned to face her.
She pointed over to where Vince was standing in the distance, down the beach from me. I turned to watch her point and saw that Marty was standing with him, and it looked like Bob was hiking over to join them. A merry little gathering; for some reason I thought first of Robin Hood and almost made a joke about Friar Tuck. I mean, who doesn’t want to make a joke about Friar Tuck? He is as useful as the one who just sat around wearing red and singing a song. Who was that again?… Oh, yeah, Will Scarlet. “What does the great artist want with me?”
“I’ve no idea,” She stated and then awkwardly moved closer to me, reached into a pocket of her dress and held out a folded piece of paper.
“What’s that?” I asked (really I didn’t need to inquire, but I did anyway).
“You know,” she merely said.
I took Anna’s letter from her, glanced down to recognize her handwriting, and put it in my pocket. It didn’t need to be read now. It wouldn’t have changed anything, anyway. When I looked back up, Jenn was starting to stroll away from me in that purposeful way that was only hers.
“Back to taking his orders?” I asked quickly. “Has life returned so much to the past for you?” He was always her Little John, wasn’t she? Of course, what would that make me?
“He asked if I could collect the three of you and I had nothing else to do besides watching Ralph’s house burn down, as fun as that idea is. And anyway, he wants to talk to me too.” She stopped to look at me, he eyes cold again, reminding me first of how it was when I first met her so long ago. Yet, it was more, from her hair to her dress, she was mourning her book, and like one who lost a love, she looked like death herself. The book about me. “Stay here, come along, I don’t care anymore.”
Hearing her say that stunned me. It didn’t make sense. “You don’t care? After all of that stalking.” I walked up to her.
“It wasn’t stalking,” she quickly corrected, annoyance in her tone.
“Stalking,” I said again, not about to lose the word. “You don’t care how my story ends?”
“Life’s not a book,” Jenn sighed, her voice almost sounding like a lecture. “I should’ve realized that. You’re just Steve.” She paused, bit her lip, and continued. “My book is done. It won’t be completed. And, to be honest, I don’t think any reputable publisher would touch it anyway. You need something otherwordly to get published these days; a ghoul or an adventure, a corpse, a gun, a new love. Everything is a series, one part leading to another and another. Yes, there is an incredible lack of zombies and horror in your tale. Even if I was to have completed it, it would’ve been doomed. See, people don’t just release books about normal people and relationships anymore. Literature has changed, the market has changed. The time of character growth is gone, stuck in the realm of classes and the gated kingdoms of professors like our other guest. I was playing in a dream of the past, Steve. You were only part of that dream, a shadow of what could’ve been under better times, in better hands.”
I stepped towards her, and… really I have no idea why I said this, “What if you were to change the names? After all that work, couldn’t you at least try?” Maybe I was feeling sorry for her? Like a guest at a funeral saying emptily that a mourner will be alright.
“It doesn’t matter, Steve, don’t you understand?” Jenn said, shaking her head. “And anyway, as a story, it’s missing the twist. The surprise. And it would have to be unique, something that catches the eye, that could cause a debate in a classroom or among a book club. Something that would make it standout without needing vampires. And I can’t imagine at all what that would be. Normal lives don’t have bombshells like that. Fiction and reality are two separate things, I should have known that from the beginning.”
“Is it a good book?” I asked, still not sure why I was doing any of this. She was crazy, a warped individual with a warped sense of reality; yet, as I walked closer to her, I was reminded again of the person who sat next to me for hours listening to me, consoling me, supporting me. Even if it was fake then it didn’t matter to me, because at the time, for that Steve, she gave me exactly what I needed.
Jenn paused, thinking about her answer carefully. She crossed her arms and then uncrossed them again before she said, “I think… Yes, I think it was a good book. Well, it could’ve been.”
I nodded slowly, considering once more all of my options and then said, “Abortion,” beginning then the journey to Vince and the others.
Rebecca was alone now, but not really. She would not really be alone again, she reminded herself, not… for what?… Eighteen years? “Her secret” is what she was calling him/her. Her secret alone, only hers… now.
She was sitting on the grass by the beach, it was a little wet, but Rebecca didn’t find it uncomfortable, it was almost kind of nice with the rain being so warm. She placed her hand again against her stomach.
“Excuse me, professor,” A voice said behind her, approaching, and Rebecca didn’t have to turn around, knowing who it was immediately.
Rebecca quickly removed her hands from her stomach. “Yes, Viv?” she asked.
Viv awkwardly moved towards her, walking around to stand in front, blocking Rebecca’s view of the party meeting Vince on the other side of the lake. “I wanted to say I’m sorry.”
“Sorry?” Rebecca wondered.
“For trying to blackmail you, at your house. Do you remember?”
“Oh, yes, that,” Rebecca said, fighting to hide back a little smirk. It all felt like such a memory now. “Don’t worry about it, Viv. It really doesn’t matter now, does it?”
Viv didn’t seem to take her words to heart, and stuffed her hands in her pockets, awkwardly kicking the wet sand by her feet. She seemed so young then, so innocent, so fresh. The sight almost made Rebecca sad, as if she could see all of the heartbreaks life would have ahead of her. Rebecca then wondered if she had ever been that young, that new. Maybe before that strong drunken young man mistakenly walked into her room while looking for a bathroom so many years ago…
Viv continued, “Well, I want you to know if I could go back in time and change that moment… Well, I would change a lot of what happened. It was unlike me. I was obsessed, crazy for him and… I don’t…” She stopped, losing her words, and then took a breath adding quickly, “The fact is I’ve a class with you next semester and I hope you’ll not hold it against me.”
Rebecca let out a loud laugh. She covered her mouth, surprised by the outburst she had just made and then began to laugh at that as well. It almost hurt her side, she was laughing so hard. Viv, noticing Rebecca’s response (and feeling so relieved), joined in, realizing then how ridiculous she sounded.
“Sit down,” Rebecca said, motioning towards the spot next to her. “Sit down, sit down.”
Viv did, but still not too close, Rebecca after all was one of her professors. When they both stopped laughing, they quietly watched for a minute the raindrops falling on the lake in front of them. It was a beautiful almost therapeutic sight.
“Which class are you talking?” Rebecca asked.
“19th Century British Literature,” She replied.
Rebecca ran through the syllabus quickly in her mind. “Should be a good class. Some of my favorite books are in there.”
Viv nodded and then stared at Vince across the lake. She moaned, “I should never have changed my major. I could’ve graduated by now if I stuck with my earlier choice. It was stupid. This entire last year was stupid. I didn’t even attend my finals because of…” her voice trailed away, not wanting to say his name.
“Oh, what was your previous major?” Rebecca asked casually, trying to change the conversation, not wanting to talk about Vince either. She was almost surprised how little she cared about what Vince was talking about across the lake. That was Bob’s thing now, and she had her own new future waiting in the wings.
“Early childhood education,” Viv replied, and then pointed towards Mary in the distance, who was still kissing the great hulk of a man that was Gordon. “Just like Mary. We were going to start a daycare together. Well, that was her plan, Mary was always the planner. Personally, I would’ve been happy just being a nanny. I did that for a really nice family when I was a sophomore. I loved making the lesson plans, watching them grow and learn. I miss that, I really do. I still have saved some of the art projects we did…”
As Viv continued to prattle on, Rebecca put her hand on her stomach again, smiled at the decision she was making, not doubting her confidence in the least. “Can I get a list of your references?” She interrupted.
Vince was facing the lake, taking in all of the sights around him. A flaming house, breakups, engagements, arguments…
Watching, ever watching the world and all its stories unfolding and ending before him, as if for only his entertainment. It felt proper, it felt right.
And now there was this. He cupped his hands behind his back with a clap, feeling like a general preparing to speak to his troops.
Vince’s coat was back on (having saved it from the fire) and he wished that there was more wind, he always thought it looked better with a slight breeze underneath it, lifting it up into the air. Of course, with the shower it would have had to have been quite a wind to accomplish that, so he wrote it off as the best he could hope for.
When Jenn walked up behind him, he knew it was time (Of course from his viewpoint he knew where everyone was without her help). He took one last fleeting glance at Rebecca and Viv sitting on the hill across from him. They seemed to be laughing… and suddenly Viv was hugging a surprised Rebecca. Vince had no idea why, but that image made him smile, and he kept that smile on his face as he theatrically swung around to face the others.
Jenn, Marty, Bob, and Steve were facing him, but none looked happy to be there, and no one was standing near the other; happier to have the distance between them. Trust would have to be built from the ground up with this team, Vince knew, but he had time… Years… maybe even a decade or more…
“I have plans,” Vince began, no longer hiding his true voice in another’s. “I’m not sure how much each of you know, but since the college mural I’ve been collecting a mass of offers, commissions, grants. Jenn had been fielding the calls for me (he pointed towards her). Well, what Jenn doesn’t know is I plan to accept a dozen of them. A dozen, all of them located in the heart of Europe.”
“A dozen?” Jenn asked shaking her head. “How can you do a dozen?”
“They won’t be done all at once, Jenn.” Vince explained quickly. “Plans will be in place. I’ve no idea how many years this might take but the fact is, to accomplish my task I need a team. Because what I’m planning is big, different, groundbreaking, revolutionary, and I need people I can rely on.”
It began as a snicker. Maybe it was Marty? Soon each of the people laughed at that, the idea he could rely on them after everything that had occurred over the season. Even Vince had to fight back a little giggle. “You laugh, but once I tell you my final goal, you might change your mind. And really, we have all been through something together, haven’t we? A tale worth telling in any book.”
He walked to Steve and put his hand on his shoulder. “I need an architect. Someone with the capability to think outside the box, someone who has nothing to gain from staying here, who needs an escape. Someone I can trust to not be afraid to take a risk, because when you are low there is nothing to do but rise. Someone who is willing to fall in love again with creation, with life.”
He then walked over to Bob, doing the same gesture. “I need a construction manager with years of experience who I can put my faith in to oversee the production of what I’m planning; put together the right team, no matter the country. Someone seeking an adventure, new beginnings. Someone wanting to feel important. A general looking for an army of workers to control, building giant sculptures no one has seen before.”
He walked over to Marty then and pretended to throw a punch (Marty didn’t flinch which Vince thought was awesome). “I need someone to oversee my security, not just around my art, but also around me. Someone who knows what it is to be me, has seen me at me worst and at my best; can almost guess what I’m thinking, what I might do when out and about. Frankly, Marty,” he said and then leaned forward, his forehead touching his friend’s forehead. The gesture surprised Marty before he could even consider moving back. “I need a friend that will have my back. I want you to be that friend, Marty.” He then patted Marty’s face and walked to the last of the group.
Jenn…Vince stopped. “And I need someone to handle my press releases, write about the work, and make sure my biography is what I want it to be.”
“You want me to write?” Jenn asked, her eyes going wide.
Vince nodded. “And more, I…”
“Why do you think any of us will want to work with you,” Steve interrupted, the first to break the inspirational moment.
“What?” Vince asked, almost startled.
It was then that Bob grunted, joining in. “Or why any of us will want to work with each other.” He waved his hands around at the others. “You all knew about the mural and that it was my wife.”
“Actually, we all helped paint it,” Marty corrected.
Bob looked around, a new fact emerging to his horror. “The twenty? You were all part of the secret twenty?”
Steve built on the argument, not bothering to answer Bob’s obvious question. “You slept with his wife,” he gestured to Bob. “And you slept with his girlfriend, Vince.” Motioning last at Marty, who crossed his arms.
“I didn’t sleep with Anna if that’s what you’re worried about,” Vince said.
“Okay, that was a bad joke, I’m sorry.”
Steve continued to glare as he spoke seriously, “You knew Jenn was writing that book about me for months! Manipulating me. You recorded me for her too, didn’t you? At the strip club?”
“Steve…” Vince moaned, worried he was losing the weight of the moment.
“Why would I want to do anything with you?” Steve asked “Why would any of us?”
Vince was getting annoyed. “Honestly, Steve, you’re in no position to act better than me.”
“What?” Steve was confused. “Seriously, what?”
Vince continued quickly. “I went by your office. I know what you’ve been saying about the mural. Your boss actually tried to brag about it to me—to me!—before he realized I was the painter.” He paused and then added, “Oh, and I might’ve gotten you fired. It’s really a good thing you called and quit that morning. Mr. Bradbury was planning to speak to you as well when you came in. Sorry.”
Steve’s mouth fell open. “Why… Why did you go to my office?”
“Why?” Vince asked as if it was obvious. “I went for references.”
“You went for references!?!” Now everyone’s mouths were hanging open.
Vince was strangely loving the image of astonishment in front of him. “I went for references for all of you. Oh, except Jenn,” He turned to face her. “For you, I just read some of your book.”
“How?” Jenn’s mouth closed as she stepped forward, trying her best to hold in her excitement. She was almost bubbly.
Vince smiled. “How could I not? You’ve been leaving excerpts from it around my apartment for months hoping I would look. Well, I finally did. And because of it, you are here.” He stepped closer to her and spoke more quietly. “Now while I think some of what you did was sick. Like for example discussing Steve’s porn preference…”
“She discussed what?” Steve interrupted.
“Not now Steve,” Vince shouted back and then returned to Jenn. “I’m assuming you went through his computer and under his bed?”
“You went through my computer?” Steve asked, stepping forward.
“Steve, again, we can discuss this stuff later,” Vince said, waving him off. This was supposed to be all about him and Jenn. “The point of why I bring this up is that while the motives were questionable the writing was persuasive.”
Jenn smiled. “You think so?”
“I was drawn in. I admit it, I was. I wanted to learn more. “
“You’re talking about me.” Steve said, pointing at himself in the chest. “You wanted to learn more about me, Vince.”
“Hush Steve.” He put his hand on Jenn’s shoulder. “With the right inspiration and the right subject, I think you might have a chance as a writer. And what is a more interesting subject right now than me? Will you consider changing the names?”
Jenn nodded happily. “Steve said the same thing, and now I know how to end it.”
“Good,” Vince said. “With my new connections, I think we can get a publisher. I’ll even promise to do the cover image, that’ll help.”
Jenn almost looked like she was going to clap for joy.
“I want to review the manuscript!” Steve demanded.
Vince smiled at Steve, took a step away from Jenn and began to pace as he talked, just like he did so long ago when he first told the gathering about his plans for the mural. “Jenn, it’s not just the press releases, I need your help managing this. We’re going to have numerous projects going on at the same time, maybe for as long as years, maybe even a decade. I need you to be able to take some of this off of my shoulders.”
Marty was horror stricken by what he was hearing. “Vince, you can’t. She’s crazy, unstable. Think about what she was trying to do to Steve? Heck, she even made out with me!”
“You made out with Marty?” Steve exclaimed.
“Was that when you were moping about Viv?” Bob asked with a point. “After all that, you were cheating on Viv?”
Marty rolled his eyes. “I didn’t cheat on Viv, I was practicing for her.”
Everyone stared at Marty, until he began to blush.
Vince smiled. “Frankly, Marty with this kind of a plan, this kind of a secret, you need a little crazy on your side. Consider all the planning and thought that went into her abandoned book on Steve. That kind of crazy I may need, I might need to tap into.”
Jenn smiled at that, she smiled wide, remembering again why she chose this artist, this poet, this painter as her mentor.
“What about the heart?” Bob asked. “Are we just abandoning that?”
Vince could feel the change in the air. They were intrigued. He could feel the interest, taste it. It was like a rhythm, a growing beat of a marching drum. It almost made him want to dance. “We won’t be leaving for Europe for a month. In that month I’ll have time to sell the idea to the city and oversee the initial planning. After that, I believe e-mail and photos should be more than enough. I plan to call it ‘Humanity’s Weakness/Strength.’ People love titles like that.” Even in this group Vince could tell the title was a success.
“And in Europe?” Jenn asked. “The twelve commissions?”
Vince nodded. “Yes, but I plan to do some negotiating. I will not be painting… in a way. We will be building, creating. Which is why I need the two of you.” He pointed at Bob and Steve. “You’re going to be making things unlike anything anyone in the world has seen.”
“What?” Bob asked, not able to hide his excitement now.
“We will be building structures with two purposes, Bob, my man, two.” Vince said, quickly walking over to him. “The first (he held up one finger) is what people around it will see. Each will be unique, the people fronting the bills will not be disappointed. Like the heart, like the mural, they will each take a viewer’s breath away, I promise you that. Celebrating life, a pure wonderful moment captured. And when my creativity—my little gray cells as Detective Poirot would say—are ready, I’ll know what to do with each. What aspect of humanity, I need to present on a large scale. I’m not worried about that at all. We will seize this.”
“Spectacle and mystery?” Steve asked, a bit of excitement in his voice.
Vince nodded and almost ran over to him. Everything was building, faster, faster… “Exactly. They’ll be big and they’ll be bold, and they will make the heart, the mural, and the sex painting look like practice.”
“Sex painting?” Bob asked, confused. “What’s the sex painting?”
Vince continued, not bothering to answer the question, “People will fly in, drive great distances to see all of them. I’m guessing there will be tours in the future where people will just go from each to each, only seeing our masterpieces, skipping everything else. That’s the goal we’ll all be aiming for, that kind of a future.”
“But what’s the second purpose?” Marty asked. He took a quick step towards Bob and Vince; as if being nearer, the news would get to him faster.
“The second,” Vince said, enjoying this moment, letting out a little laugh of triumph before beginning, “is the great secret. It will be the greatest secret in art ever. The secret only we will know, our group, and only our merry team will share. That secret is that the pieces, these giant and glorious pieces that we will be creating with our hands… will be connected.”
Both Bob and Jenn walked over to stand nearer to him. “What do you mean, connected?” Jenn asked, sounding almost unlike herself in her exhilaration.
“The Earth… The Earth will be my canvas, Jenn,” Vince grandly said and at that moment he wanted to hug all of them. “I plan to make art on a scale not before imagined! I don’t know how yet, maybe light beams or lasers, or colored lights, or technology not even invented yet, maybe even by the shapes and size of the structures; this is where the planning will take place; but they will connect, somehow they will. Yes, I’ve some ideas, don’t worry your little heads about it yet, but I’ll need each of your help to dare the impossible, to think outside the box.”
“But… but that’s impossible,” Steve stated, in a whisper, almost too nervous to say it out loud. “So few things can be seen from space, Vince. Even the Great Wall of China is a line, but…”
“All that means to me is that no one else has attempted it, Steve. Think of it my man! Just think! And even in the attempt we’ll be doing something different. This will be something entirely new for the world, for our green planet. This will connect countries, destroy borders, unite the world together. Change how people view this wonderful globe of ours, no longer separate but as a whole. Our team, our little team… we will be attempting to make art for God’s eyes.”
The team paused taking that idea in.
“Or aliens,” Marty said finally. They all looked at him. “Well, there might be aliens.”
Jenn glared at Marty and stepped forward even closer, her breathes were quick. “What are you planning to call this piece? I know you have a name, Vince. The final piece together?” Jenn asked excitedly. “What are you going to call it?”
Vince looked back to the wreckage of Ralph’s cottage and then to his team of once lost souls around him; his new and loyal troupe that will change the entire world of art over the next decade.
“The Fires,” Vince said with a luminescent smile. “I’m going to call the project ‘The Fires.’”
If you liked reading the chapter (the earlier chapters can be found on the Permanent Spring Showers page), why not check out some of my published books? I’ve had three novels published in the last few years, A Jane Austen Daydream, My Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here, or as an eBook on Google eBooks here. Thanks for reading!