I don’t know what to tell you. Somewhere in the foam off Hallis Beach is a person I used to be. A tree falls at shoreline, is taken by the ocean, stripped of its bark.
Sorry. I’m being mysterious. I may have lost her. We had a fight last week, and she refuses to make contact with me. In a normal relationship, this would be obstacle enough. In this one... But if I venture outside our usual lines, it could be seen as treason.
I am a weak man. Opened up, throttled out, weak. The hills of Hallis are dusted with the candystore lights of Christmas, but I cannot go home for the holidays.
Think of me. I’ll see you when the birds run dry.
It was the final workday before the Christmas break, and Scootie couldn’t leave. He sought his usual distraction at the library piano, but could strike only three keys, over and over, for twenty minutes. If anyone else was there, they would have strangled him. He craned his neck to catch the eyes of Harlan Fetzle over the mantelpiece, looking for a signal – thumb to the nose, yank of the earlobe, hit and run, steal. Or at least play some other goddamn note.
He wandered outside to make contact with Juliana, something he had failed to do for two weeks. The air in the courtyard was draped in mist, leaning on rain, the security lights coated in fuzz. He stepped behind the terrace and found the light from the Kross kitchen, slicing down Blaze Hill like a moontrail.
One light. Eight o’clock. Would two people in one house make use of only one light? Time to break a rule. He turned the collar of his windbreaker and climbed.
Twenty feet away, he paused. No good way to do this, but some better than others. Sneaking up the back might trip a security alarm, scare Juliana half to death. He could see Alcyone now, poring over a copy of Rolling Stone, glass of Chablis on the counter. He sidestepped to the driveway and discovered her Volvo, all alone. He continued as casually as possible to the old Mexican door, reaching for the wrought iron knocker and letting it fall three times. A faint padding of feet, then a voice through the door.
“Yes? Who is it?”
The voice, puzzled but firm, unsettled him. He cleared his throat and replied, “Juliana. It’s Scootie.”
Her reaction came as expected: a hesitation, followed by the realization that she’d better let him in. The bolt slid over with a clank, and she beckoned him inside.
“Come in. Quickly. Please.”
He followed her to the living room, still in darkness. She turned, hands held together.
“You couldn’t just leave it, could you?”
“Leave what? I never got much of a briefing.”
“I thought my lack of response was clear enough. It’s over.” She dropped it and left, forcing him to the role of pursuit. He found her at the kitchen counter, perched on a stool, left leg dangling in a padded blue brace.
“Listen to you,” he said. “You’re such an actor. You’re in a film of Juliana’s life. I’m not some caricature of a jilter lover, throwing stones at your back. It’s just me. It’s just Scootie. Come back down and talk.”
Juliana paced herself with a sip of Chablis. “Listen, Scootie. This is the equation. In some poetic fashion, you want possession of me, but you can’t have me, not like that. I’ve been a complete fucking idiot, and I can’t afford to be an idiot any longer. Too much depends on it.”
Scootie walked away from her, looking out the window at Fetzle. “A theater center. A town. A marriage that doesn’t really exist.”
“It’s my marriage,” she hissed. “I’ll damn well do with it what I please.”
“And where does love fit into this?”
Juliana set her wineglass in the sink and ran her hands under the tap. “Love is for teenagers. I fell for you, Scootie, but I’ve recovered my reason and I’m sorry, but this is where it ends. And I don’t appreciate you busting into my house like this.”
Scootie slapped a hand on the counter, hard enough to make Juliana wince. “New money, old money or no money, you have no right to treat me like a piece of meat. A final visit is the least I deserve.”
Juliana lifted a phone from the counter. “This first button is a speed dial to the sheriff. The second one is a security service that will get here in five minutes if I so much as breathe on it.”
“Go ahead,” said Scootie. “I have this one advantage over you, Juliana. I’m a nobody, and a little jail time is... what? An inconvenience, a little time, a little money. You, however, have no such freedom, because you are a somebody, with that big furry creature you call a Reputation to groom and shampoo and de-louse.
“Besides.” He took the phone and set it back in its cradle. “You know, in your heart of hearts, that I am incapable of doing you harm.”
They were interrupted by a flurry of knocks on the front door.
“Shit!” said Juliana. “That’s Virginia. She said she might come by. Follow me.”
Scootie did as requested, trying to remember what he really wanted from this. He wanted Juliana, goddammit – the past, the future. Winning this small fight was beside the point. She led him through a small door at the end of the kitchen, down a set of stairs to a wine cellar. She positioned him next to the sherries and stood on the first step, issuing instructions.
“Please, Scootie. This isn’t some cop show. I’ll talk Virginia into a trip into town for a drink. Wait here for ten minutes, then leave. There’s a door to the right of these stairs that leads to the trail. Please.”
She turned to go, but Scootie grabbed her hand. “What do I get in return?”
Juliana replied with a look of growing panic, her hand shaking in his. “What do you want?”
A second round of knocking. Scootie pressed her fingers. “I want you to leave your mind open, just an inch, and spend some time thinking about us, and the time we’ve spent together. After New Year’s, I want you to give me an answer. Whatever it is, I’ll respect it.”
“Yes,” she said, blinking nervously. She tried to take back her hand, but Scootie wouldn’t let her, not until he unfolded her fingers and laid his lips upon her palm.
She turned to hide her tears, then climbed to the top of the stairs, bracing herself against the doorframe. “Thank you,” she said, and closed the door.
Scootie listened for the progression of sounds – fading voices, the click of the door, the rumble of Virginia’s Jaguar – the counted three minutes for good measure. He slipped out the door and down Blaze Hill, dangling from his hand a twenty-year-old bottle of French cabernet.
Photo by MJV