Indian summer was over, and the rains weren’t going to leave till they damn well felt like it. The weather had no effect on Villa Califa – Scootie had long since patched up the leak over the bed – but they began to weary of the wet, slippery trail.
They developed a system. On wet days, it was back to the Shorefront Motel. On dry, the Villa. One days in between, the decision fell to Scootie. If he chose the Villa, he hung the gold banner outside his window; if the Shorefront, a blue windsock he bought on a trip to Stinson Beach.
The weather was not all that had changed. Thanks to Carney Lankmann, a vacation designed to relax Juliana’s tension had served to increase it. She was taking extra peeks through the blinds, and an extra hour to loosen up to Scootie’s touch and remember that this was not a chore. If she could only forget Wyoming.
A day in mid-November, decidedly wet. The goose-husband had flown to Beijing, a billion new customers upon whom to fling cash. And another Saturday night of espionage.
Scootie and Geoffrey had re-initiated their cigar-swap, and this time out were competing for the cheesiest American model. Scootie submitted a 29-cent Swisher Sweet, not much more than a cigarette with a plastic tip and cherry flavoring. Geoffrey handed up a Tennessee Mountain Hickory Twist that looked all the world like a shredded Slim Jim, strands of tobacco bursting from its flared tip. As usual, Scootie had been outdone. He thanked Geoffrey with profuse irony and entered the closet to Room 14.
Joyous at the return of his lovebirds, Geoffrey had rigged up the place like San Simeon North. The bad was bracketed by antique lava lamps, placed on pedestals from the recently closed Hallis Art Gallery. The dresser hosted a 50-gallon salt-water aquarium, ribboned with exotic fishies. The entertainment center now included two dozen novels, a 12-disc CD player, and a 43-inch TV with DVD player and two dozen classic films on disk. Scootie was beginning to wonder if Geoffrey was living a little bit too vicariously.
That day, however, he needed the distractions, because Juliana was late. He got 50 pages into Hemingway’s short stories before tiring of the style-style-style, flipped the CD to La Traviata, then tried out a DVD of The Graduate. A frightfully nervous Dustin Hoffman sneaks up on Mrs. Robinson in the hotel room for a kiss, and as he holds his lips to hers, her eyes grow increasingly large. When he finally releases her, she blows out the lungful of cigarette smoke that she’s been holding in. The timing of it was thrilling, and Scootie rewound it eleven times before pressing the mute button and letting them continue their affair in silence. He considered one of the more adult selections, but didn’t want to get too worked up before his own Mrs. Robinson appeared.
He snuck back through the bathroom, knocking politely lest he interrupt Geoffrey and Flora in some similar engagement. Geoffrey shouted “Come on in!” from the kitchen. Scootie found him over the sink, doing the dishes in a frilly floral apron.
“Nice outfit, babe.”
Geoffrey flashed a smile. “Not too garish? I was considering something more subtle for the winter season.”
Scootie crooked a thumb under his chin. “Stripes. I’m thinking stripes. Black and white. Kind of... retro.”
Geoffrey called an end to the gag by saying, “Donde esta su novia, compadre?”
“No se,” answered Scootie. “I’ve been consoling myself with Geoffrey’s Film-O-Rama.”
“All this time?”
“Two hours now.”
“Heavens to Betsy!” said Geoffrey, in a way that only a man in a frilly apron could say it. “There’s only one answer to female desertion, and that’s Scrabble. I’ll get the board.” He headed for the closet shelf, but quickly reappeared. “Someone knocking for you, Master Jones.”
Scootie knew that Juliana refused to set foot in Geoffrey’s apartment – whether from embarrassment or propriety – and intended to use this knowledge to full advantage. He entered the closet and squatted next to the still-closed panel.
“Scootie, it’s Juliana.”
“I’ve told you Girl Scouts to leave me the hell alone. I’ve already eaten enough thin mints to choke and elephant.”
“Scootie, come on. Get over here.”
“I’m not kidding! My cholesterol has jumped thirty points. Now go away!”
“Scootie, this is not funny.”
Scootie cracked open the panel. “No, what wasn’t funny was making me wait two hours.”
“Scootie, I have news.”
“So tell me.”
“I am not going to tell you while I’m squatting next to a toilet!”
“Fine, fine. Let me at least say goodbye to Geoffrey.” He turned and yelled “Goodbye Geoffrey!” then crawled into the bathroom and walked past Juliana.
“Don’t I get a kiss?”
“I’m not feeling particularly amorous,” he said, pulling a volume of French photographs from the bookcase.
Juliana took a breath to calm her irritation, then proceeded to her defense. “They had a special meeting of the board. I couldn’t get out of it, I couldn’t get a hold of you, and the meeting ran late. And then I had to go out for... well...”
Scootie slapped the book shut. “What?”
“For drinks. To celebrate. I wanted to tell you in a better way than this, when you were in a better mood.”
“Well, I’m sorry. Moods are not easily trained. And why couldn’t you call me? This grassy-knoll CIA paranoia is getting old. I wish you would...”
“All right! All right already. Just be quiet a minute and I’ll tell you.” She put a hand on his arm, requiring at least this minor contact. “Rolf Vanderbecken was supposed to be the next president of the board, but he’s been diagnosed with prostate cancer and decided to step down. And so... they elected me!”
“President of the Board of Trustees for the Fetzle Theater Center,” she said, and beamed. She was hoping he would come along for the ride. Bless his heart, the boy had perspective. His grimace turned slowly to a smile.
“That’s... that’s wonderful, Juli. And at your age...”
“The youngest in Fetzle history.”
“Wow! Juliana Kross, executive.”
“And I have an executive order.”
“Kiss me, dammit!”
Scootie gave her much more, and it fell to his credit that he could consider Juliana’s victory the equivalent of his own. It was only later, deep in Juliana’s slumber, that the forces of self-interest would reassert themselves. Scootie sat before the aquarium, studying the S-shaped wriggle of a tiger shark, and wondered when Mrs. Robinson would come up for air, spit out the smoke and dismiss the young boy from her hotel room.
Photo by MJV