“Jewel. What’s the matter?”
They sat at the Mulberry Cafe, and this time it was Juliana, and not her mother, who watched the customers coming in and out of Lane’s.
“Nothing,” she said. “Nothing, really.” She looked down to discover a tuna melt, untouched.
“Is Scott off on another trip?” Margaret tossed the question like a crumb on a koi pond, to see if anything would surface. Juliana saw right through it.
“Oh, no. He’s around. In fact, he’s been around for two weeks, ever since he got back from Milan.” She saw Scootie every other day at the mansion, but dare not touch, not grab, not pull him up the stairs and spread herself across his desk...
“So what’s eating you?”
Okay, old lady, you asked for it.
“I’m having an affair, Mother.”
Margaret stopped a forkful of angel-hair pasta in mid-delivery. With her mother’s ear, she would know if her daughter was kidding. She wasn’t.
“Are... are you sure, dear?”
Juliana laughed out loud. “I am having repeated intercourse with a man not my husband, Mother. I believe that satisfies the basic requirements.”
Her mother had the look of a ventriloquist’s dummy once the ventriloquist’s hand was removed.
“Well after all, Mother, it was your idea.”
“But I never thought you’d actually do it!” Margaret whispered. “How could you? How could you cheat on Scott?”
For all her life, her mother had been telling her to loosen up, and for all her life, Juliana had stayed tight. Now that she had achieved the impossible – scandalizing Margaret Lane – she was going to ride this pony for all it was worth.
“It’s quite easy, Mother. Men are very willing when it comes to sex. You just have to know where all the important parts are.”
Uh-oh. She had overloaded her circuits.
“Listen, Mother. I’ll stop playing my little game if you’ll stop looking so overwhelmed. You’re the only person in the world I can tell this to, and I really need you to be more of a sister than a mother.”
Margaret tried to compose herself, taking a sip of wine and folding her hands in her lap. “Okay, okay. I’m sorry, Jewel. It’s just that you came out with it so all-of-a-sudden.”
“I wasn’t going to tell you at all, but you kept pushing. Seriously, now – I have been seeing a quirky, handsome young man for the past two months. We have been having great sex and going on wonderful adventures.”
“Are you... in love with him?”
“I’m not sure I want to think about that. But I do care about him. A lot. You know I couldn’t sleep with just anyone.”
“Are you being safe?”
“Yes, we’re using protection. And yes, we’re being secretive. Almost fanatically so.”
“I guess that’s good,” said Margaret, still befuddled. “Will you tell me who he is?”
“Maybe later, mother. Let’s take this slowly.” Juliana sighed and looked back across the street. A pair of teenage lovers stood in front of the store, arms draped around each other like slack ropes.
“Jewel?” she heard her mother say. “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”
The boy jumped in front of the girl and opened the door for her with a smile full of chivalry. “No,” said Juliana. “I don’t.”
August was gratingly slow, but Scootie knew to keep himself occupied lest it catch up with him later. He was updating his press list, calling media receptionists all over Northern California, when Jackie tapped a fingernail on his doorframe.
“Hey, Scoots. Got a minute?”
Scootie peered around the side of his computer. “Sure. C’mon in.”
Not that she ever strayed far from Western fashion, but Jackie was looking particularly Texan. She wore a knee-length pleated skirt with a belt of silver buckles, a long-sleeve cotton blouse with shoulder patches of baby blue, and a silver rattlesnake bolo tie.
“And I thought Patsy Cline was dead.”
Jackie sat in the chair next to his desk and crossed her legs. “I’m feelin’ festive,” she said, and smiled.
“Rollin’ around with Roy Rogers again? I can almost see the hay in your hair.”
“Well, see? It’s comments like that make me wonder about you, Scootie Jones. Half the time you’re mopin’ around like someone shot your favorite dog, the other half you’re all loosey-goosey. What’s up with that?”
Scootie knew he had to toe the line on this – Jackie was much too close to the eye of the hurricane. He tried a dodge. “I think I might be missing my parents.”
Jackie was taken aback. She folded her fingers around her knee. “Really? I mean, that’s very sweet, Scootie, but I didn’t know you and the folks were all that close.”
“We’re all pretty independent, but my parents were academics, so we used to take long trips in the summer.”
“So whyntcha go visit ‘em?”
This lying is hard work, thought Scootie. “I have to... save my vacation time for the holidays. We’re renting a cabin in Tahoe.”
Now for the change of subject. “So how are things with Rex?”
The mention of his name brought an instant smile. “Cruisin’ along. Took him to that opera in the park up in ‘Frisco – Falstaff, up in Stern Grove. He liked it! You’d be surprised, these cowboys ain’t so isolated anymore, what with satellite dishes and the internet.
“He’s been shuttlin’ back and forth ‘tween here and Montana, though, since his daddy’s gettin’ better, so I don’t get to see him as often as I’d like. I don’t know what’ll happen if Pappy gets all robust.”
“I’m sure he’ll find an excuse to get out here,” said Scootie. “If he knows what’s good for him.”
“See, there you go again, sayin’ sweet things. Hey, what’re you doin’ this weekend? Y’wanna check out a cowboy poetry festival?”
“Settling for the next best thing?”
“Hey, any cowboy butt’s a good cowboy butt. But really, Rex swears by these things. They’re supposed to be very entertaining.”
“Where and when?”
“Watsonville. Sunday. Starts at one.”
“Yeah, that’ll work.”
“Well, good,” said Jackie. She unleashed her shitkicker smile and headed for the door. “By the way, I hear Juliana’s got a surprise for us.”
Scootie tried to react nonchalantly. “Really?”
“She ‘n’ Annie been doin’ a lotta conferrin’ this week, so it must involve a rental. I’m hopin’ for a rodeo myself.”
“Not likely,” said Scootie. He waved a pencil as Jackie disappeared. He wanted to start a list of cleaning supplies, but he didn’t want to leave physical clues, so he settled for running them through his mind: wood soap, household oil, floor polish, lamp wicks...
Given their two-week separation, Scootie wasn’t sure if Juliana was trying to please him or torture him. She wore a mango jacket with a handpainted tiger across the back, a silk blouse of dollar-bill greens and burnt yellows, and snug khaki stirrup pants. A string of chocolate African trade beads paid calculated gratuities to her dark features. But nothing could hide the muted sparkle behind her eyes, the one she was trying to hide from the rest of the staff. She took to her accustomed pacing as she related the news.
“A month ago, Annie was contacted by the Santa Cruz County Film Bureau. They were scouting locations for a film, and needed a place that could double as a resort hotel – a place that could be secured, cut off to outside traffic for two weeks, and mostly, a place that would convey a sense of old-world charm and elegance.
“We didn’t want to tell anyone until we signed a contract. We signed it yesterday. The company arrives September 12, right after Shakespeare Santa Cruz closes, and for every day of shooting the Fetzle Center will receive ten thousand dollars.”
Juliana had anticipated festive applause at this point, but they all seemed to be waiting for something else. Aggie, naturally, was the first to pop the balloon.
“Well who is it, for God’s sake? Who’s shooting the movie?”
Juliana laughed, and took a long pause to frame it just right.
“Miramont Pictures. The cast includes Donna Giozetti, Frank Platten and Sasha Carbeau.” She took a breath and let out the clincher. “Starring and directing, Cal Westley.”
“Cal Westley!” Aggie exclaimed. She was joined by hoots and hollers around the table. Annie wore a satisfied smile, enjoying her part in the celebrity buzz.
“It’s a buddy cop film titled Sophomore Jinx,” said Juliana. “And... one more thing. They need a hundred extras for the scenes at Fetzle, and they’ve invited us all to take part.”
The applause finally arrived. Jackie punched Scootie on the shoulder and exclaimed, “We’re gonna be in pictures, cowboy!”
Scootie played along as best he could, and asked the requisite questions about the release of information to the press. But something was troubling him, dwelling at the sides of his throat, drying up his voice. It was only later, putting the hat back on Guido’s head, watching the tiger lady climb back up the hill, that he thought he could put a name to his symptoms. He was in love, and the man in the adobe castle held dominion over his passion. His only salvation lay beneath the hoof of Pan, and right now, rubbing his breastplate in search of a pulse, that was the place he was afraid to look.
Photo by MJV