Convert This Page to Pilot DOC FormatConvert this page to Pilot DOC Format

These characters are purely figments of my imagination, which is subject to outside influence from time to time. I hope they seem familiar to you.

This is a story about two women who meet and learn to love each other. Thatís not so far fetched to me, but if it gives you a problem please read someone elseís story. This is mine.

Your feedback is welcome but letís do play nice together.

My thanks to gj who has recently agreed to lend a hand with editing. Hopefully you will also see some improvement in my grammar and spelling.

You can contact me: jdragoness@mindspring.com


Part   1   2   3   4

All Manner of Madness by Anne Reagin

Part 3

These characters are purely figments of my imagination, which is subject to outside influence from time to time. I hope they seem familiar to you.

This is a story about two women who meet and learn to love each other. Thatís not so far fetched to me, but if it gives you a problem please read someone elseís story. This is mine.

Your feedback is welcome but letís do play nice together.

My thanks to gj who has recently agreed to lend a hand with editing. Hopefully you will also see some improvement in my grammar and spelling.

You can contact me: jdragoness@mindspring.com

All Manner of Madness by Anne Reagin

Part 3

John was relieved to see her when she arrived at their departure gate with twenty minutes to spare. He was chattering and she was glad for the diversion. When the plane left the ground Jamie announced quietly that she was tired and closed her eyes. There was never any possibility of sleep. She simply needed to sort through some of the chaos.

Her feelings were spinning in a centrifuge, blurring together. Somehow, in the course of three days, her life had changed and it frightened her.

Sheíd been bashful and aloof all of her life. She had never dated much and hadnít been out at all in the past two years. That was when sheíd lost Jeff and the heart went out of her. The Federal Reserve, where she worked in human resources, had given her a leave of absence during the last stages of his illness. Then she had simply withdrawn from everything. Depression swamped her for months.

She made many promises to herself during that dark time. Sheíd sworn that she would never let herself feel that deeply again. The risk was too great and yet here she was, anxiety ridden at the aspect of flying away from an unknown commodity that she already felt a need for. Her mind cried out to abandon the situation, but her heart wouldnít listen. She would have to try harder.

Just then, she felt rather than saw, the stewardess. She was leaning over Jamie with a glass of tomato juice for John. Her head was just inches from Jamieís face when she opened her eyes to dark hair over a dark complexion. For an instant, she thought it was Joan and that sheíd been dreaming.

"Sorry," the stewardess apologized, thinking she had awakened her. Jamie smiled and dismissed it with a wave of her hand.

"You alright?" John waited for an answer. He sensed that she was troubled. "Iím worried about you."

She organized her thoughts and finally offered, "the woman I met, Joan, you know the one thatís been showing me around?" He nodded. She paused when she couldnít find the words to explain that whatever it was she was feeling had her ecstatic and miserable in equal portions. Finally, she gave up and said, " I like her, John." She watched to see if he knew what she was saying. He didnít. "I mean, I think I like her." She hit the word "like" so hard it made John jerk his head up a little as if he had been punched. His face lit up.

"Thatís fabulous!" He was giving her an awkward hug, which drew the attention of the hefty couple across the aisle. "Tell me all about it." He settled back into his seat.

"Thereís nothing to tell. We just seem to fit together." His eyebrow went up, reminding her of someone else. "NOT LIKE THAT," and she slapped his free hand. "I really donít even know that much about her except that I love her company, her sense of humor, her confidence and determination." Jamie was cataloguing these treasured characteristics for the first time. It was strange for her to hear the words out loud. "I like everything I know about her so farÖ." Her voice trailed off.

He was grinning from ear to ear, so happy that she had finally connected with someone. "It doesnít surprise me a bit, in fact Jim owes me five bucks." Jim was a protégé of Johnís from his office. She had met him briefly during her visit there to plan and initiate this same tour.

"Are you telling me you knew? How could you know? I mean, I didnít know, well actually I still donít know. I just know I like Joan, soÖwhat does that mean?" She looked up into his face hoping for an easy answer. She got it.

"It means you like her, nothing complicated and maybe nothing beyond that. Itís enough."

"If you suspected, why didnít you ever say anything?"

"What should I have said? Hey Jamie, you know why you have all these stories of failed romance with the men in your life? Youíre fishing in the wrong pond." He laughed loudly. "Youíd have called me crazy."

" I called you crazy anyway. We established that fact when you let your "ex" take all of yallís furniture after the divorce. What were you thinking? Planning to join the Navy so you wouldnít need your Louis XIV desk?"

Her spirits were beginning to lift. It helped to talk about it to John because she knew he had been where she was now. Her largest concern was how much of an idiot Joan thought she was as this point.0

 

The week started out at a frantic pace in the studio. Sally came in Monday with half a voice. Joan was leaning over her light table looking at proof sheets when Sally appeared at her door. Her voice came and went in the course of her sentence. The photographer shook her head. "Weíve got a bad connection, try again." When she had repeated herself enough times her frustrated boss finally pieced it all together. "OK. Theyíre coming an hour early, what does that do to us?" Her mind began sorting through the ramifications. "Give me some time to think, and hey, you sure you donít want to go on home? These walls wonít crumble without your presence if you feel bad."

Her boss was not nearly as tough as she would have had them all believe. She was a truly compassionate woman. The secretary wanted to explain that she felt just fine and ask a dozen questions about her weekend, but her voice permitted a single squeak. She motioned some type of sign language towards her boss and walked out.

"Iíll take that as a Öwhat?" She went back to the problem at hand.

There were three reasons why Joan Wyckman was a successful photographer. She was inventive in her technique, fearless in her execution, and she turned preparation into an art form. This day would be no exception.

This was a special favor that she had granted for one of the good guys at the entertainment conglomerate that she did work for. At least it had started out that way.

Laura Alexander was a dynamic businesswoman who had made tremendous contributions to her last employerís coffers. Of the four projects that had enjoyed major success for them in the last five years, three had been the product of her no-nonsense, fair-minded development. At the end of that time frame, with virtually no warning, the corporation fired her.

Many of her proteges had been glad to see her go. Her work ethic made it more evident that they werenít producing in proportion to their scandalously high salaries. She destroyed the curve for everybody. An entertainment group had made her an offer and she accepted. This new employer wanted to avoid the stereotypical image of a female executive when publicity was released on their new hire. They wanted her to appear softer, a less threatening individual than she had been perceived as previously. Joan thought the whole think was a crock, but trusted herself to handle the job requirements better than most. At least she wouldnít suggest feather boas and glamour shots.

Stan Hayes, the aforementioned good guy had approached Laura with the idea of the photography session and explained what it was supposed to accomplish. "My qualifications for the position you have offered me do not include a predilection for doing Ďcheesecakeí photos." He patiently kept chipping away at her, mentioning his proposal at every opportunity. Finally, one day he just dropped a binder full of Joanís work on her desk anonymously. She agreed to a meeting. Minutes into that meeting she knew instinctively that she could trust the photographer not to cause her any humiliation.

Joan insisted on meeting with all of her clients prior to the actual work session. It gave her a chance to get some feel for the personality involved. The people she photographed rarely had a realistic take on what they looked like. Often what they considered as flaws, she viewed as attributes and vice versa. She could work around that as long as she knew it in advance. It also gave her an opportunity to uncover any special problems that might occur.

The photographer had liked Laura immediately. She was gracious and remarkably open about her situation. She did not hesitate to candidly explain the reasoning behind her dismissal, none of which shocked Joan. Laura thought it best that she understand the nature of the beast they were trying to obliterate.

After talking for over an hour, Joan had noted the mention of Lauraís nine-year-old daughter several times. She asked the executive to consider letting her photograph them together. She could think of no better to way to prove that she was human than to introduce her to the world as the mother of freckle-faced Sandy Alexander.

They had coordinated everything to correspond with the keeping of young Sandyís school schedule. Joan figured that any mother with that kind of concern for maintaining her childís routine deserved her best effort.

Just then, Kevin, her assistant, arrived breathless at her office door. "Come on in Kev." She never looked up from her pinpoint of focus on the desktop. "Be sure you load the sixty, eighty and hundred millimeter. Put the close-up filter on the hundred. I want one light and two reflectors. Be sure the radio slave checks out for the remote. Everything else is ready. You got it?" She finally looked up and saw only an empty doorway. ĎThat young man will go placesí.

She had a thought and hit the button on her telephone intercom. "Sally, donít talk, just listen." She hesitated a few seconds. " Hey, I love this arrangement. Listen, what do nine-year-old kids like to eat and drink? Letís get some of it in here, quick. Also, find out what music they listen to and see if we can round some of that up too. Thanks." She hung up the receiver.

Sallyís voice came right back over the speaker. She squeaked out, "the lab wants to know what time to pick up tonight."

"Tell them Iíll call an hour before since Iím not sure how long this will go. Also tell Hannah the proof sheets will be marked up and in the package, too."

Her staff had never let her down. They were professionals, every one. Even the make-up and hair people that came in as independent contractors knew her exacting methods and they always delivered. She was blessed.

When Laura and Sandy arrived she sat them down in her office to assess the degree of nervousness they were experiencing. While they were there, Joan offered them her special brand of hospitality. She went after their drinks herself and brought back a plate of cookies, too. She nibbled on an Oreo while they talked.

She explained the process they were about to begin in detail. They both seemed to relax with each revelation. Sandyís only concern by the time that they were finished was that Joan not photograph her braces. Once they knew what to expect they were anxious to get started. "OK. You two report to the dressing rooms and just let me know when youíre ready." She smiled an easy smile and her two subjects headed out the door, wiping cookie dust off their hands.

The session went smoothly, lasting only a little over two hours, including several clothing changes. Joan took individual shots as well as a vast number of mother-daughter pictures. She was confident that she had what they needed. Her favorites would no doubt be the ones of Sandy laughing with her mother at a remark Joan had made. Her braces were in full evidence though and a promise was a promise.

As the two were preparing to leave the studio Laura walked over and put her arms around Joan, startling her. "Thanks. For everything. Itís been one of the few good experiences Iíve had in association with my career. Youíre the real deal."

Joan was slightly embarrassed by the executiveís praise and was grateful when her daughter interrupted. "You know these guys?" She indicated the photos of Jesus and company that were thumb tacked to the outer wall of Joanís office.

"Sure do. Theyíre sort of neighbors."

"Cool," came her reply.

They were ushered out by Kevin and their driver took over from there. Joan called out so that everyone in the studio could hear her. "Good job everybody. Go home, Iíll finish up." Normally Sally would have protested. The fact that she didnít told Joan that her secretary was not feeling as great as she professed to feel after all. "Call me in the morning before you come in Sally. If your voice isnít back, I want you to stay home. We can argue about it when you can talk again."

Sally nodded her head in agreement until she realized that she had been tricked into admitting how bad she really felt. She swatted her boss on the shoulder and mouthed "Thanks," as she walked out the door, leaving Joan alone.

Joan made sure everything was in order, wrote careful instructions for the lab, and enclosed them with the film that they would be processing. The proofs would come to her in two or three days. Suddenly she remembered the film she had shot of Jamie at Venice beach on Saturday and she included it with the rest.

The studio was in darkness as she headed up the stairs. ĎWow, I am bushed. I guess I didnít sleep all that well last night.í She chose to ignore that observation without enlarging on it. She fell into the sofa and hit the remote for the stereo. Her eyes fell across the cover of ĎSouthern Heartí. Picking it up, she tested the weight of it in her hands. This was proof positive that the events of recent days were real, not imagined. She studied the dust jacket picture and automatically smiled. Joan opened the cover slowly and flipped through the pages looking for a particular piece that she had liked a great deal. She spotted the edge of some handwritten scrawl inside the cover and realized that it was Jamieís inscription, which she had forgotten to read. She flipped to the bookís beginning.

"Out of all manner of madness comes truth."

Jamie Fielding

The script was bold and distinctive like the thought, which turned over in her mind for some time. She treated it as a riddle to be solved. The more interpretations she came up with, the less convinced she was that she understood any part of what Jamie was trying to say. The truth was, she didnít understand any part of Jamie, period.

In any event, she felt herself starting to stew. She realized that she was too restless to stay home. She heard herself silently saying how huge the place suddenly seemed. Joan decided to call Andrea and maybe meet her for a bite of dinner, but she got her machine. Leaving a message, she jumped into the shower. After she put on fresh clothes, she felt a little better and headed out to the local club where Andrea hung out sometimes. It was almost eight oíclock now, but she still might track her down. Anything was better than staying home. She was out the door.

~~~~ ~ ~~~~~~ ~ ~~~~

Jamieís day had been an exact repeat of many sheíd experienced in the last two months. She rose to Johnís wake up call, dressed and rode with him to a signing in the morning, followed by another in the afternoon. Between the two, they had grabbed a quick lunch.

She had met a lot of nice people, shaken many hands and signed her name a lot. Now all she craved was a hot bath and some quiet time.

As she soaked in the tub, she was replaying the conversation sheíd had with Joan last night. She had gotten to her hotel room and settled her luggage before picking up the phone. She didnít know what she had expected, but the conversation had been a disappointment. The call itself had been a real source of anxiety since the moment she had left Joan standing on the curb. She didnít know what to think about herself or what she was feeling. She had hoped that she would get some help sorting things out from her friend. Then they talked about nothing really. It was if neither wanted to be the first to personalize the conversation and consequently, it had stayed on a surface level. When they had suffered several silences between them, Jamie decided she had made a mistake in calling, even if she had promised Joan. She could have bitten her tongue for her next remark.

"I miss you already." ĎDamn, where did that come from?í To make matters worse, Joan did not respond or even acknowledge the remark.

Joan suggested that they talk again in a few days. She left the time frame ambiguous.

"Itís nice to talk to you," Joan had said, sounding like some calloused socialite spouting predictable, polite phrases. "You and John have a good time in Phoenix." It wasnít much of an improvement.

"We will." She hesitated before asking " JoanÖ"

"Yeah."

"Remind me why I bothered with this call?" Before she gave Joan a chance to respond, she continued. "Skip it, that wasnít really a question. Goodnight."

The line had gone dead. Since then Jamie had refused to waste her time even thinking about it.

She had dozed off, which startled her a bit, as sheíd never fallen asleep in a tub before. It was an odd sensation to wake submerged in cool water. She stepped out, wrapped herself in a thick chenille robe sheíd brought from home and went in to lounge on the sofa. ĎGreat, it was 106 degrees in Phoenix today and I am freezing.í She pulled the bedspread off the bed and tucked herself into it. Pulling a notebook into her lap, she opened it to a new page. Phrases were weaving themselves into a pattern. Some sentiment within her wanted naming. Thatís how she thought of her writing. She simply allowed the words to react together in her mind until they made sense to her and then she wrote them down.

ĎObsession is about wanting to control the sequence of events in life, in fantasy, in everything. While obsession breathes, it gives me purpose. I find stolen moments in which to go there to visit a place where I have spent so much time that it contains total comfort. Nothing makes sense while in the throes of obsession and nothing is rational. That is part of the addiction.

Jamie laid her head back against the sofa cushions and closed her eyes. She wasnít sure she was making any sense anymore, even to herself. She sighed deeply and twisted her blonde hair around her finger while she tried to concentrate. Eventually she fell into a fitful sleep.

 

As soon as Joan sat down at the bar, she suspected that she had made a mistake in coming here. She saw no familiar faces, but felt eyes staring at her from somewhere in the room.

She ordered a scotch and watched the activity behind her in the mirror behind the bar. She had Jamie on her mind and the ridiculous anxiety she had felt watching the clock last night. She knew only too well what time the flight was scheduled to depart and when that time came and went she felt a sinking loss.

"Mind if I sit down?" said an unidentifiable voice. Joan shrugged her shoulders letting the stranger know she didnít care one way or the other. The next time she looked up into the bar mirror she noticed a very attractive blonde woman on the bar stool beside her. She was lost in thought when a voice interrupted.

"I know it sounds like a line, but do you come here a lot? Iím new in town and I havenít met anybody yet. Itís kind of lonely in a big town like this." Her smile was incredible and by anybodyís standards, this was a beautiful woman. Then too, according to Kate, blondes were her greatest weakness.

Joan just shook her head no. "Just here trying to find a friend of mine. She comes here for the music." She jerked her thumb in the direction of the platform in the corner covered with sound equipment. "Looks like a duo tonight, two microphones," she stated the obvious.

"Is your friend an entertainer?"

"No! Actually, a stock analyst here in town."

"Been together long?"

She thought a minute, not getting the implication immediately. "No. Weíre not together. She really is a friend of mine." She really wasnít interested in conversation. If only the blonde hadnít confessed her loneliness. Weighing the situation, she took a deep breath and swiveled her stool a quarter turn to confront the beautiful stranger.

"Iím Joan, by the way." She extended her hand.

"Diane. Iím with Lanier. Iím in sales, but Iím trying to get into acting."

ĎOh boy. Why am I not surprised? What this town needs is another Shakespeare spewing copy machine salesman.í She had a firm policy of not revealing her profession during chance meetings like this. There were numerous occasions when she had run into aspiring actors and actresses, all of whom wanted a foot in the door by any means. Her affiliation with the studio was as an independent contractor. They wouldnít understand or believe that, but she did not intend to trade on it.

"Iím sure youíll do well. Youíre very beautiful." She raised her glass in a toast, ending the conversation as far as she was concerned. As she stood up to leave, a hand on her arm stopped her.

"Where are you running off to? Did I say something?" She had the saddest look on her face and Joan was affected by it.

"NoÖ" she scrambled for a lie. "Iím just going to put some money in the juke box." She headed off in that direction. ĎGreat. Now I have to get myself out of this.í

Diane was drinking a second Margarita when Joan returned. She patted the photographerís arm with a proprietary air. ĎGod I hate thatí. She swiveled her chair back to its original position so that she was staring into the mirror again, hoping this person would get the message.

"You havenít told me anything about yourself." She reached out and dropped her hand on Joanís arm, causing her to flinch noticeably. Diane removed the offending hand, but was unhappy about it.

"Sorry, not a touchy person. In fact I have a problem with people coming into my personal space." She burned her with a look, not caring whether she understood or not. It was the truth.

Unfortunately, the blonde took this as a challenge and redoubled her efforts. "Weíll just have to work on that, wonít we?" She ordered drinks for both of them before Joan could protest. "Now, where did you say that you work?"

Joan was careful not to encourage her in any way while she explained in half-truths what she had done in the past for a living. She tried in every way that she could think of to make herself sound boring, but kept getting enthusiastic responses. She was telling this woman she was in printing, Bibles at that, and she was reacting as if she were an astronaut or Safari guide! When Diane ordered a fourth drink for herself, Joan stood up and excused herself to the bathroom. On the way across the bar, she heard someone call her name and looked up to see Andrea approaching.

"Thank God youíre here."

"Always glad to see you to, friend."

"Hey, I need your help." She explained the situation briefly to her friend. "Could you come over with me andÖ"

"Tell me again why you came to the bar when you want to be alone?"

"I thoughtÖI donít know what I thought, but I canít do that, not now."

"Uh huh and would you like to tell me why not?"

"No!" She realized that she had snapped at Andrea. Having no desire to be rude she amended her remark. "No, Iíll explain later. Please, just get me out of here and Iíll owe you big."

Andrea recognized that her friend was near her boiling point. She had seen Joan mad on two occasions and did not want to witness a repeat performance.

"Well, is she cute?"

"Sheís drop-dead do me. Just your type. She also has no clue how far out in left field she is. Look, I know I should never go out alone. I need an unfeeling sex maniac like you to fend off these siren-types."

"OK. Hold onto your chastity belt and Iíll be right over. Order me a drink." She laughed and stopped to speak to another friend of hers momentarily.

On the drive home she didnít even turn on the radio. She was punishing herself in all kinds of ways. What HAD she been thinking? It was clear now that she had been seeking a warm body when she left home, someone to hold against the ache she felt tonight. Only when someone presented herself, Joan had realized that it had to be a specific someone and her dark mood had deepened.

 

The next morning she was in her studio when Sallyís voice on the intercom announced a call on line two. "Hi Joan. Iím calling to find out if you poisoned Diane before you left." It was Andrea sounding extremely annoyed.

"You two seemed to be getting along great, what happened?" She asked innocently.

"I wasnít feeling particularly amorous after holding her head over the commode for forty five minutes. I got her into her bed, folded my tent and stole away into the night. Thanks a bunch." Joan laughed loudly. She really deserved a scolding for having dumped Diane on her, but was relieved that it hadnít turned out any worse than it had.

~~~~ ~ ~~~~~~ ~ ~~~~

"I canít believe Iím almost there." Jamieís intonation gave John a mental picture of a kid standing at the gates to Disney World. The plane was on its approach to the Atlanta Airport. She turned to John and let her hand drop on the arm occupying the armrest. "Iím going to miss you. Are you sure you wonít change your mind and stay over for a few days?"

"Iíd love to visit sweetie, but I want to sleep between my own sheets and see my things around me. This tour hasnít been nearly as bad as it would have been if I had been traveling with someone besides you. The fact remains though, I want to go home."

"I understand, believe me. Will you call me when you catch your breath and let me know how things are going? Iíve gotten used to having you to talk to for some part of everyday. It will be hard to adjust." Jamie looked hopeful.

"You know I will."

They talked about the new book she was working on and what time line it might involve. It was impossible to judge exactly how long it would be until it was even ready to go to an editor. Jamie had been feeling pressured to complete it until she and John discussed the situation. He had been able to convince her that if she let a self-imposed deadline rush her, she might threaten the integrity of the work. "I canít tell you how to manage your creative productivity, but I can tell you that you need to relax about it. Youíll give yourself writerís block. Just go home and do what you have always done and it will come when it comes." It was sound advice and nothing she didnít already know. It was just good to hear it from someone else, especially someone that she trusted.

The plane touched down and she waited for all the other passengers who were getting off in Atlanta to do so before she stood up. John helped her to get her things out of the overhead. He hugged her and they both held on for a long time. This was a difficult parting, more so than either would have believed. As soon as she let go of him, she headed up the aisle to the exit, refusing to look at him and go all-emotional. She put her hand in the air in a backwards wave and stepped out into the tunnel.

Jamie was digging in her wallet for her luggage claim stubs as she entered the airport terminal and hoping there would be no problem finding a taxi to take her the twenty plus miles home. She had not looked up at all when she heard her name called out. "Jamie, honey."

"Mom! What a surprise. I had no idea you were planning this one." She threw her arms around her mother, and by the time she had turned them both in a complete circle, she realized Jake was watching them and smiling. She abandoned her mother and repeated the process with this distinguished man who was twice her size. She had dropped everything in her hands and it took all three of them to pull it together.

"I canít believe you came all the way up here to pick me up. You two are really something." They started in the direction of the terminal. "Jake, did Mama make you drive up here?"

"He made me come with him, actually. Said you would need a familiar face. Besides, I needed to see you anyway just to make sure youíre all right. Itís a Ďmotherí thing." She smiled at her daughter, obviously so happy to see her that she was about to bust.

"Your trip home go OK?" Jake was carrying all of her junk for her now.

He is honestly the sweetest man. Iíve got to make a point of spending some time with them sooní. "Yes, just knowing what to expect at my destination made all of the difference in the world. If I have any say in it, I will not be going anywhere any time soon!" All of them laughed.

"Never say never," her mother warned her. She reached out and touched Jamie on the shoulder, something really out of character for Hazel Fielding. Jamie noted it, surprised, and spent the hour drive home chattering away to them about her travels.

They were kind enough to help her get her luggage in the house and then politely made excuses about needing to get home. Jamie was genuinely thrilled to see them both, but she was equally as thrilled to enjoy the peace and tranquility of her home. She had missed it, but had really not realized how much until she stood in the middle of the floor and turned in circles taking it all in.

 

Jamie had been surprised to hear from Sarah, Jeffís sister. It had been four months since his funeral and no one in his family had attempted to contact her up to that point. She was more surprised to find out that he had extracted a last promise from his sister. He had asked that she take Jamieís little book to her boss, an editor with a small Savannah publishing company. It had been the beginning of her professional writing career.

This, generous as it was, would not be his final gift to her. If she had been surprised to hear from Sarah, she was shocked to receive a letter from his attorney. His estate had been left entirely to her. In a letter that had been written in his own hand, Jeff had expressed his gratitude for her tender care and emotional support through his illness. He wanted her to realize her dreams as he had not had the time to realize his own.

The proceeds from the sale of his house and its splendid furnishings had been put away for her. This, along with his life insurance, represented a tremendous gift to add to the legacy of his friendship. It enabled Jamie to find her land and build the house they had talked about so often. She had worked hard establishing the lawns and planting the beds that surrounded the house and peppered the grounds. She had become immersed in her writing. Time went by and the pain became bearable, but just.

This morning waking in her own bed was every bit the luxury she had dreamed it would be. Propped against the pillows she studied the pattern of the herringbone brick patio that she had begun before leaving home. Her Japanese Maples were thriving in the spots she selected for them. The gardenias and azaleas were in the ground along with several varieties of hastas. It made her smile to think of how much Jeff would have loved it. She had accomplished a great deal already and she looked forward to having time to get back to it.

She made coffee and started on the first of two cups she allowed herself each day. She took it with her up the stairs to her office in the loft. She checked her computer for phone messages, where the answering service posted them in her e-mail. She hated answering machines and refused to own one. The phone never rang in her house unless she called and stopped the call forwarding. It was a luxury she allowed herself. She told people that she wasnít screening her calls, but hated to be interrupted in the middle of a train of thought when she was writing. Some people believed her.

ĎLooks like Kate has called twice. I wonder whatís up with her?í John had left word of his safe arrival. Sheíd also had calls from her editor in Savannah, Jakeís son, whom she had yet to meet, and two solicitors. Nothing from Joan. She printed the list and left it on her desk.

Lounging was her number one priority today. She had slept late, another luxury after weeks of early wake up calls on the road. Tomorrow she could get back into the routine of writing, housekeeping and all the rest. For today she planned to begin decorating for Christmas, something she was usually done with long before Thanksgiving.

Jamie sat in the overstuffed armchair that faced out into the woods behind her house. It was so lush and green and seemingly silent from her vantage point. She had spent endless hours on the balcony behind her bedroom studying the depths. She knew that it was anything but quiet out there. The frogs and crickets sang all night long for most of the year. Sometimes she would wrap herself in the crocheted blanket she kept on the back of a chair and would sit in the morning or evening chill. Many times on cloudless nights when she couldnít sleep, she dressed in sweats and cocooned herself in blankets so that she could watch the sky. She studied the stars and watched the moon rise. She loved the progression of light through the intricate pattern of naked branches in the winter before it broke free into a clear, clean night sky.

ĎMy house is the best thing I have ever done for myself. Shoot itís probably the only thing.í She went into the kitchen seeking her second cup of coffee.

She decided to call Kate, as her curiosity wouldnít allow her to wait on that another day. She looked up the number in her address book and checked to make sure it was a decent hour on the west coast. "Hey Kate, this is Jamie."

They exchanged greetings and Kate, notorious for being blunt, came right to the point.

"Jamie. What is wrong with Joan?"

"I donít know what you mean. I havenít talked to her since Sunday." Had it been only a week ago?

"Well, it took me four days to get her to return my calls and she sounded miserable." She paused, hoping the author would offer something. "Look, I know you donít know me well so hereís the thumbnail sketch. My depth of character is reserved for my work. In my personal life, I am an open book. I think you are too and thatís why we hit it off so well. Our tall friend, on the other hand, can be mysterious and moody. I worry when she broods like this."

Jamie was turning several thoughts over in her mind, but was reluctant to give Kate information that was not hers to give.

"Maybe you donít realize that sheíd been a lone wolf all of her life. Itís taken considerable time and effort for me to draw her out at all. I donít want to let her go back inside herself now. She is one of the few people that I know that works in this town without losing their integrity. I admire her for that and many other things. I sure donít want to lose her as a friend."

"What has she told you?"

"Nothing. Thatís just it. I called all week. I thought that maybe your leaving had something to do with it. She canít handle goodbyes and with good reason."

Jamie needed to know why and she said so. Kate didnít hesitate. "She wouldnít have told you, of course." She paused and then started again. "Her last memory of her parents is of them saying goodbye on their way to the airport. They died in a mid-air explosion."

"Oh." Her voice was barely audible. "She told me they died when she was young which was tragic enough, but I had no idea about the rest of it." She had no gauge to measure grief of this intensity by.

"Itís part of her problem with letting people in. You know, when youíre lost, the degree of lostness isnít an issue."

"That explains a lot, Kate. We had a serious conversation before I left and things were kind of tangled. When I called Sunday night from Phoenix, she was so cold that frankly, it hurt my feelings. I had been under the impression that we had established certain things between us." She stopped not sure how much she wanted to divulge, but Kate pushed on.

"Like what?"

"Well. That we wanted to spend some more time together, but within a few hours she sounded like a total stranger again." Sheíd have to read between the lines or talk to Joan if she wanted anything more. "We havenít spoken since." Kate made her promise to call and try to patch things up. Her pride would never have permitted her to make that first step, but now she had an excuse. She would never break a promise to a friend.

~~~~ ~ ~~~~~~ ~ ~~~~

"Joan, this is Jamie. I think we need to talk. Would you please call me? Itís Monday afternoon, four oíclock here. I wonít be leaving the house all evening. Please call me." Beeeeeppppp. She rewound the message and played it for the fifth time, ashamed to admit how much she enjoyed just hearing her voice. ĎShe sounds friendly and warm, not at all angry like she sounded before she hung up on me. Maybe I should just give her a call and see what she has to say.í

She wrestled with the decision, but not for too long. It was nine p.m. in Atlanta. She had no desire to call too late and she didnít think she could hold out until tomorrow. She tried to act casual as she wondered to herself if she still had the phone number she had been given. ĎWhat a fraud you are. You had that number memorized the night she gave it to you. Stop stalling.í She dialed.

"Itís Joan. How are you Jamie?"

"Iím so glad you called. Iím just great. Iím home." She plowed ahead, not allowing the situation to become uncomfortable in the silence. "By the way, you were right about sleeping in my own bed. Iím a new person."

"Thatís too bad, I liked the old one." They laughed weakly. She sounded apprehensive and Jamie sensed it. This was an important moment between them and she had to make everything right.

"My clothes are in my own washing machine, my grocery list is three pages long, and Iím just putting the last string of lights on my Christmas tree. Wish you were here. Literally."

Joan laughed and her mood brightened immediately. It was if they were still together in Los Angeles, not three thousand miles apart. "Iím counting the days until I get back, believe me. A week from Saturday."

"Great! Youíll be home in plenty of time for Christmas." She had stewed on the situation all afternoon and decided that the best tactic would be to act as if their last conversation had never happened. Once she had erased it, her last memory of them together involved a very interesting kiss and things got easier. "You can come for Christmas, canít you? I mean, I know you have to see Martha and your foster family, but there should still be time."

"I promised Iíd spend Christmas afternoon there, but this new husband of hers leaves me cold. I donít mind that he drinks, but his attitude is so surly. She deserves much better, but she insists that sheís happy and I know itís really none of my business. Martha has a huge heart. Iím living proof of that."

"Why donít you stop over in Atlanta for few days and Iíll help you shop for all of them. I bet you havenít thought about gifts for them yet."

"Thatís really sweet of you, but Iím not that big on Christmas. I usually write them all a check."

"Terrific. No wonder you love Christmas. All that holiday spirit is overwhelming. Come on, itíll be fun and arenít there some kids? I love to pick out toys and there are no children for me to buy for this year."

Joan hesitated. She really was anxious to see Jamie, but she hadnít seen her house in three months when she had visited last and it had been over a year since she had lived there. "I really ought to check out things at the house, itís been closed up so long."

"Nice try, but I recall you saying something about a caretaker and his wife down the road? Call them. I donít want to hear any more excuses. Iím not kidnapping you for a month. Just come and spend a couple of days before you go home. Iíll work on getting you back here in time for Christmas later."

She had wanted to say yes from the beginning and didnít understand her own reluctance. She had been digging her heels in and making this difficult for Jamie ever since she had left LA. The mountain would still be there and it would be nice to ease back into Georgia residency with someone to help her.

"OK. Youíve convinced me, but only because I know that if I donít come there wonít be any decorations on the top third of your tree. You need me." They both laughed in earnest now and started talking about the events of the past week. Joan talked about Laura Alexander and her daughter and Jamie said she wanted to see the results. She then related the tale of Andrea and Diane and the adventure at the bar.

" I didnít know you were a loose cannon. Iíll have to keep closer tabs on you." Joan was encouraged, if embarrassed by this remark.

"Guess so, but in the meantime tell me about your tree. I havenít decorated one of those things in fifteen years, and I only acted as Marthaís assistant then."

"Iíve seen examples of your photography. I know you built houses and sold real estate, you wrote for a newspaper, you are a carpenter and printer. Surely with all of those skills you can decorate a Christmas tree."

"How did you know that I wrote for the paper?"

"Kate told me. I warned you that she was doing an infomercial about you that day on her patio."

"Figures. I need to sit you down, see what all she told you, and determine how much of it is true. How about your friends there, you had a chance to talk to them yet?"

" I donít talk to the ones in town often, but I do keep in touch. My closest neighbor is 81 years old and we have mutually agreed not to invade each otherís privacy unless itís necessary. Like I told you, I live a very quiet life."

She didnít believe that for a minute, but let it go for the time being. They talked until almost midnight and even then, they were reluctant to give up the connection across the miles between them. Joan promised to talk to Jamie later in the week and they both said goodnight.

ĎHow could a single conversation change things so drastically? On again, off again, on again. I can already see this is going to be complicated.í Jamie smiled to herself as she headed off to her bedroom and the crickets.

~~~~ ~ ~~~~~~ ~ ~~~~

Things had been winding down at her studio all week. Once she convinced Stan that there was no talking her out of her leaving this time, he had cooperated and helped her wrap things up.

She had been thinking seriously about surprising Jamie and arriving a day early. In truth, she could barely wait to see her. "Iíve got everything squared away, boss." Sally and Kevin had been helping her clear out the studio equipment. Most of it had been packed and shipped to Clarkesville along with her battered leather sofa. Her other furnishings had been given to Sally to be donated or redistributed as she saw fit.

"Sally, see that Kevin gets this case. Itís got his favorite camera in it. Tell him I want him to start his own career with it when heís ready." The secretary smiled and put her arm around Joanís back as they walked towards the office. "You sent those photos for me?"

She got a nasty look for questioning Sallyís efficiency. "OK, OK. Itís been crazy around here the last couple of days, I didnít mean anything by it."

"Gonna miss you, boss, but I sure appreciate you getting me the interview. I donít think that working for Stan will be so bad. I should be able to straighten him out even quicker than I did you. Heís a nice guy."

"Youíll take care of that in no time." Joanís eyebrow went up, but she was smiling too.

"I guess the next time I see you Iíll be in the land of cotton. I really am coming for a visit. You better be ready, too."

"Iíll make you grits for breakfast."

She grimaced as she put her arms around the tall woman and they hugged. Sally let go first. "Better go." She turned to hide the tears in her eyes. She didnít want to spoil her image.

~~~~ ~ ~~~~~~ ~ ~~~~

Joan had been to dinner with Andrea the previous evening. Kate was her last goodbye. She had saved the worst until last. She would see her tomorrow for brunch and then fly out in the afternoon. As much as she dreaded the meeting, the prospect of home lessened the heaviness in her when she thought of it.

"Good evening, Scarlett. What are you up to tonight?" Joan had dropped all pretenses and was now in the habit of calling Jamie every evening. Cumulatively they had talked for hours and hours over the last couple of weeks.

"I was trying to sit outside, the night is so beautiful, but I was freezing my ta-taís off. Iím under my quilt right now. I was reading a little, and waiting for your call." She decided it wouldnít hurt to tell the truth.

Joan had a mental picture of that blonde head and those blue eyes peeking out above the covers, trying to warm up. She could not admit to herself even now how much she had missed that face. "Mmmmmmm."

"What did you say?"

"Oh, nothing. Listen I decided youíre right. I really should get some gifts to take to Marthaís on Christmas day. Iím just really terrible at deciding what to get. Does the offer to help me out still stand?"

"Sure! I love to shop. All I need is an excuse."

"Yeah well, itís really the adventure Iíve been craving." Joan was at her sarcastic best this evening. "Seriously, if Iím going to do this, I have to do it right. I hate it when people buy totally thoughtless gifts. I donít know why they bother." Jamie started firing questions like a seasoned reporter. She was accumulating information about the personalities of the people they would be shopping for. Her method and rationale in making the suggestions she put forth was endearing to her grateful listener. Jamie cared for these people because they had cared for Joan.

They talked on until Joan announced that she had a busy day coming up and unfortunately needed some rest. She also told her a little white lie; that she was meeting Kate for dinner the next evening. "Iíll be calling later than usual if itís alright."

"Call anytime day or night, you know that. Weíre open 24 hours, but only for you." She could feel Joan smiling at her remark. Jamie had taken to disconnecting her answering service in the evening because she loved to pick up the phone and hear the distinctive voice on the other end, even if it was wisecracking at her.

"Talk to you tomorrow. Goodnight." These calls had become the highlight of her day. The author was back to her routine of writing in the morning hours. She was spending a lot of afternoon hours preparing for the upcoming holiday.

She had prodded Joan into describing her cabin in detail. She was, of course, interested in what kind of environment she lived in, but more importantly she was getting ideas for Christmas presents. Jamie knew that there couldnít have been too many great Christmases in Joanís life and she was determined to make this one really special. Sheíd found a stained glass window sash to add to the eccentric décor she had been told about. In fact, every outing she went on yielded something that reminded her so much of her tall, dark friend that she just had to buy it for her.

Her mother had been with her Ďprospecting for antiquesí as they called it, when she came across the toy fire truck she had bought for her. She also bought a brass oilcan thinking its practicality might have some appeal. Hazel Fielding had been informed of her daughterís new friendís status as an orphan with no real family and understood her compassionate daughter wanting to make it a special day for her. She also thought she detected a deeper connection and was surprisingly pleased by the possibility. They worked together turning it into a scavenger hunt over the shopping season, both trying to discover something that might be treasured by a woman like Joan.

Jamie uncovered an antique portrait camera on a wooden tripod at one of her favorite shops and was excited to add it to the other gifts that were stashed around her house. Joanís arrival in a few days precluded her putting most of them under the tree because they were unwrappable. So, she redoubled her efforts to provide a bounty of smaller gifts that could go under the tree. Before she knew it, there was a virtual mountain of shiny packages in a variety of sizes resting in the blink and twinkle of the tiny clear tree lights.

ĎThis is shaping up to be a humdinger Christmas.í She was humming Silver Bells.

~~~~ ~ ~~~~~~ ~ ~~~~

The two friends kept up a brave front through brunch. They had decided to eat out, both feeling that they would be less likely to get emotional in a public place. Neither had much appetite though, so they had mostly just been talking.

"Iím sure you and Jamie have all sorts of things planned for your trip to Atlanta in January."

"Yes, weíre taking you to a day spa she knows about." Kate laughed loudly. This did not bode well with Joan.

"I donít know exactly what that is or what you have in mind, but weíll talk about it before then." Dark eyes were challenging her.

Kate decided it was best to change the subject. "You all packed?"

"Iím heading straight to the airport from here. Gotta get rid of the rental car. You know the drill."

The actress had been trying to hit on any subject in order to avoid the one of Joanís departure. "Do you know what youíre getting Jamie for Christmas?"

"Kind of." Her smile was shy and aroused Kateís curiosity. She had thought all along that something was going on between these two.

"I sent the picture of Jesus and the boys, you know the one?" Kate nodded, "to a gallery in Atlanta. Iím having it framed for her to remind her of when and how we met. Is that stupid?"

Kate beamed. "I think itís fantastic and I think she will, too."

"Then thereís a guy in Clarkesville that makes bent willow furniture," she could tell by the actressís expression that she was clueless, but forged ahead. "Anyway, I called and heís building her a big armchair with extra wide arms, you know, for when she writes. His wife is making the cushions for it."

"You really have the hang of this gift giving thing, donít you? Or is it just that the recipient inspires you?" Her eyes twinkled.

"Kate, as a parting gift to you, I want to give you something youíve wanted since I met you. I want you to know that for all the blind dates you have sent me on, all the fix-ups I could have killed you for, I thank you. It helps me to appreciate so much more the fact that I have, on my own I might add, found the one I want." She waited.

"Iím not surprised a bit. It was obvious the day you brought Jamie over." Joan gave her a look of disbelief. "Yes, even then I could see some current between you two."

She was relieved to have told her best friend. They talked for a while about developments since that afternoon. The photographer still held most of her feelings close, but she did admit that this departure was a couple of days early as a surprise for Jamie. "Iím also dying to see her." ĎThere, I said it.í

Kate squeezed her friendís hand and told her to get going. "It would not do to miss this flight then, but I warn you. You better be nice to my Covington friend or Iíll get you." She poked at Joanís stomach. The delight with this new information was evident on her face. She pulled her into a hug.

"Call me in a few days. Let me know how itís going." She bobbed her eyebrows up and down suggestively.

"Get out of here." They both laughed and it was a good note to part on, distracted as they were from the real drama at hand.

~~~~ ~ ~~~~~~ ~ ~~~~

The Atlanta airport looked so familiar. It took almost no time to grab her luggage and get a shuttle to the parking decks. She had arranged for her Jeep, a twin to the one she had turned into the leasing company before leaving LA, to be left in the long term parking lot and had been given the aisle number by phone that morning.

She vaulted into the seat and gripped the steering wheel. ĎIíve got my life backí. She sighed deeply and headed to Covington for her first visit at the home of a certain southern author.

 

End of Part 3


Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

Listings of works by Anne Reagin Fan Fiction
Return to the Fan Fiction area