Reworked chapter 3
3. Mom Will Love This Small World Story
I sighed into my first-class seat, sinking into the rich leather. My stomach fluttered at the thought of the task ahead of me. As I considered the vaguely familiar and somewhat pleasant sensation, it suddenly occurred to me that I was on an adventure. For the next week or so I was going to be off the track I had been diligently plodding along for the last year. Maybe I’d stay longer, I thought. I didn't have to be anywhere for at least three weeks when I was scheduled to meet up with Wayne Thomas on the set of his new show, Going Native.
Wayne and I had been friends for years. We studied improvisation together at IO West back when I still thought I wanted to be an actress .
Funny enough, Bev was the one who told me I needed take an improv class and she signed up to do it with me for fun. Bev quit partway through level one because she had schedule issues (she was usually hung-over or still drunk at ten o’clock on Saturday mornings) so Wayne and I ended up improv buddies and partnered for scenes whenever we could. Which was awesome.
He was funny, tall, very good-looking. And, I soon found out, gay. He wasn’t ashamed of being gay but he did the effect being out would have on his career. For years it was really a non-issue, however. He always got auditions and would occasionally get a commercial and twice he was cast a pilot. One show didn’t get picked up and the other had a three episode run. He was cast as a dippy surfer/burnout in both which made everyone who knew him laugh because he graduated from Stanford with a degree in Environmental Science.
I was so excited for him. He was finally getting his big break. He had come up with the concept for Going Native and was the executive producer and host.
It was reality TV with all the stuff we like about reality TV (backstabbing, cat fights and high drama) and a message that promoted conservation of wild places and species.
That, of course was my angle. My editor at National Geographic was thrilled to get the scoop and I would be camping for three days with the cast outside a remote village in the rain-forest of Costa Rica.
In 365 days I literally had not had one day that hadn’t been carefully planned. I accepted every assignment that came my way. My mother, a very successful real estate broker had for years, extolled the virtues of time-blocking.
“Jenny, we all have to work but, if you don’t make time for yourself, you’ll go nuts!”
Obediently, for years I had planned my calendar with work, social commitments, the gym, a few meticulously choreographed week-end trips with friends and one extremely draining intervention. Every day, every moment of the last year had been methodically plotted out and entered in my Blackberry.
I needed a vacation from my life, I thought. And here I was sitting in First-Class on a trip to the Edinburgh Fringe Fest!
I grabbed my Blackberry and clicked on the Face Book app and typed.
“Hey UK FB pals, working in Edinburgh this week, anyone have time for a pint?”
I always hated when people did that. One time one of my FB friends put, “Looking for restaurant ideas for tonight in Paris.” I immediately blocked her feed.
This was different though because I was working, I told myself.
“Woo!” I clapped and stomped my feet as quietly as I could.
Automatically, I felt badly for being giddy. The only reason I was about to embark on this spontaneous adventure was because of my best friend’s misfortune.
“Champagne, miss?” And then, along came the man with a tray of Champagne. He handed me the flute without waiting for an answer. Did anyone say no to free drinks on a plane?
“Thanks.” I smiled and toasted myself. “You’re here, Jennifer, because you are doing your best friend an enormous favor.”
The flight attendant rolled his eyes and sighed as he moved on to the next passenger. I really should stop talking to myself.
I sipped my drink and I thought of Bev. I wondered what she was doing now. I hoped she was flirting with the kitchen staff, scoping out an upgrade on the menu.
More likely she was curled up in a shaking, shivering ball cursing my name.
Deliberately, I shifted my thoughts to the subject of my interview. What was he doing now? I felt badly for….what was his name? Michael Forester.
The simple fact that Bev was not able to complete her assignment was bad enough —there is an expectation reliability when you are a major magazine’s go-to girl on pop-culture. But dropping out at the last moment was going to put a large dent in her reputation.
I felt badly for Bev but, I knew she’d be okay with Rolling Stone as long as she completed rehab and kept her shit together. Everybody likes a comeback story, right?
I hoped this time it would stick.
I was sure, however, that this Forester guy would be pissed-off. And, I really couldn’t blame him. Being the subject of a Beverly Ayers feature in Rolling Stone had gravitas— almost like being photographed by Annie Leibowitz; it’s not the fact you’re having your picture taken, it’s who’s snapping the photo.
By now he’d likely gotten the call from his rep letting him know he’d was being interviewed by National Geographic’s “It” girl on celebrity green travel instead.
I never thought for a minute Rolling Stone would let me do the piece. Lucky for Bev, she could sell ice-water to an Eskimo. I can’t believe I doubted her for a minute.
“I’m glad your friend is willing to pinch-hit for you, Bev,” her editor said. I braced myself for the storm. “But, what’s she done that I would have read? Who the fuck is this person?”
As we made the familiar drive up to Commitments in Malibu, I wished Bev would turn it off speaker phone. I didn’t need to hear both sides of this conversation.
As luck would have it, Bev had gotten Jim on his cell, at home, in the kitchen, cooking up a family dinner with his new bride—a bleeding-heart gen-x greenie who had actually read my series in National Geographic.
I had done a piece on Central America’s booming green-travel industry. I documented the Black Keys trip through the rain forest. Apparently, bare-chested bad-boys in the jungle had a broader appeal than I was aware.
Bev held the phone away from her ear as Mrs. Rolling Stone gushed over another piece I’d written. I jokingly referred to it as “Lady Gaga’s Dolphin Date-Rape Experience”.
“She’s good, Jimmy!”
Jesus, the wife was loud too. A perfect match, I thought.
Then, my jaw dropped and I nearly drove off the road as I heard Bev continue. She knew her mark well and was sweetening the pot.
“And, the here’s 411, Jim. Jenn’s debut novel is going to be the next big thing in Young Adult lit.”
She looked over at me, winked and kept talking. “Hey,” she said, “do you think your daughter would want to spend some time on a movie set? Confidentially, Justin Bieber is in talks for the lead-role of the film version that’s being optioned, as we speak.“
“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” I heard the daughter in the background.
“Do they even need cell phones?” I said.
I wacked Bev’s arm to shut her up and sent my cell phone flying. (Bev had been without her own for weeks, having lost it in the back room of some skeezy club.) It bounced off the window and hit the floor with a thud.
“Jim!” Beverly shouted without picking up the phone, “I’m losing you in the canyon! Call my assistant and messenger over Jenn’s press kit— I’ll cover her flight and hotel—“
“Damn right you will—“
“Okay, Jim, thanks. I owe you a—“ She cut herself off. “Jim! Jim— are you there?”
“Bev? I can hear you fine,” he said.
“Jim? Jim? Shit! I think his phone dropped.” She bent down, picked up the phone and pressed the “end” button firmly, cutting out the sound of Jim yelling.
“Bev-er-ly!” I swerved as I smacked her again.
“Ow! Hey, cut it out! You can thank me later.”
“Thank you? I’m going to throttle you!”
“What? The first three chapters are kick-ass. And, keep your eyes on the road, lady.”
“Yeah, well thanks for the compliment but I’ve only written three chapters and now the editor of Rolling Stone thinks it’s already published?”
“Yeah, you’re right. You better get crackin’,” she said. She exhaled the first drag of the cigarette she had just lit. Her hands were shaking. I rolled down her window out of habit.
She waved her hands in front of her, loosely indicating the smoke.
“Sorry,” she said. She held up her trembling right hand and looked at her cigarette. “I guess I picked the wrong week to quit smoking.”
“Ha, ha,” I responded sourly.
“Jenn,” she said looking at me as she touched my arm, “seriously, thanks for doing this. I owe you. Big time.”
“Fuggedaboudit,” I said. “You’d do the same for me. And, I rock.”
Bev put he head back against her seat and smiled a little as a tear snuck down her cheek.
“You do,” she said.
What is taking these people so long to board, I thought. I was tired and a little stressed but, I wasn’t panicked. Yet. I had not even opened the manila envelope containing Bev’s notes— no doubt a scrappy collection of post-its, clippings and torn-out pages from a legal pad. I also had folder on her flash drive.
I’d meant to put the envelope of notes in my purse but I’d put it in my carry-on instead. And, I hadn’t had time to charge my battery before I left, leaving my laptop useless.
I was not going to be able to get into my carry-on apparently. It was almost time to take off and Mr. Helpful across from me had packed all the surrounding passenger’s bags in the overhead compartment like he was solving a physics puzzle.
I reached under the seat in front of me and grabbed my trusty, brown leather Coach bag. My parents gave it to me when they drove up to New York for my college graduation. In eight years I hadn’t taken a trip without it. I dug in and felt around for my fresh Molskein, finding it easily.
The assignment was a feature on an American comedian most Americans had never heard of—including me. Beverly’s piece--now my piece, was to be this guy’s debut on the American comedy radar. Apparently he already had quite a cult-following in the UK. I wondered how he’d ended up in Britain in the first place.
I jotted down questions that needed to be answered before Forester and I sat down for our interview the day after tomorrow.
Did he go over for the Fringe Fest last season and just never leave? Or, was it a conscious decision to be some kind of ex-pat?
On the way to treatment, Bev mentioned he had a film opening in Los Angeles in a few months. Reports from early screenings were that the film was funny enough. The big buzz, apparently, was that he stole every scene in which he appeared.
“How annoying,” I said.
“Excuse me, lady?” The bitchy tone snapped my head up in an instant. For the second time in two days, my jaw dropped.
Standing at the end of my row was a tall, rail-thin woman with long, thick black hair, barely contained in a high, tight ponytail. Her long, wiry arms were bare, apart from the sleeves of colorful tattoos.
“You better be talking to yourself.” She turned to the flight attendant waiting patiently behind her. “If you think I’m gonna sit next to this freak, you are mistaken!”
“Well, um…“ the stewardess said. “I’m not—“
I thought the flight attendant’s neck was going to snap as she kept looking at the two of us in turn. I strained to keep my lips from curving into a grin.
“Ma’am,” I said to the poor young woman, “is this, why we are so late taking off?”
The surrounding passengers stared, shocked by the open hostility in a town known for fake smiles and covert eye-rolling.
“Jenns! Oh my god!!!” I returned the sentiment with a squeal of my own jumped up and squeezed her tight. I hadn’t actually seen Lucy in person, in at least 12 years.
It was so good to see Lucy. She was crazy. She was crazy and fun and liked to party her face off. I seemed to collect friends like that. I wondered why. But just for a second.
“What are you doing in LA, woman?” We sipped our Bloody Marys. “Last time I checked you were at Ohio State finishing your PHD.”
“I was and I did!” she said.
“Well, Dr. Pryor, congrats!” We hugged again. Lucy was always a big hugger.
“I had a job interview at Malibu College,” she said.
“How’d it go?”
“Well, I think. I met with the head of the philosophy department and the dean. If I don’t get the job I at least think I could get some pussy from the Dean next time I'm in LA.”
“Just kidding! Seriously she was really hot and she kept touching my arm.”
“Do you date women?” I tried to sound cool. I didn’t want to be rude but I was really surprised. Lucy, at least when she was a teenager, was boy-crazy personified.
“No, I wish I did though. I love lesbians.”
I choked on my drink, tomato juice came out my nose.
“Oh my God, you are insane. How have we not gotten together in so long?” I said.
We spent the next few hours catching up. She’d been engaged once but called it off. I made fun of her for still having roommates. She reminded me she is still in her twenties and until recently a student so it was okay.
We talked about our camp friends and what they were all up to and where they were. We talked about politics and then religion and dating. Slowly we were working towards that topic. Lucy walked on eggshells to get there but I knew we’d arrive to him soon enough.
“So,” she said, “how’s Simon?”
“Simon who?” I said. I laughed then groaned. “Oh, crap, I really don’t know,” I said.
“I’m sorry! I shouldn't have brought it up.”
“No, its fine. You're fine.” I sounded very convinced. It really should be okay after all this time. I hadn’t thought of him in months, actually.
Like clockwork, Simon called me or emailed about every six to eight months.
A couple emails came after hearing a song that reminded him of Camp. Once he called after getting together with some old buddies from University that I had met when I went to visit him at school in Manchester. Sometimes he’d say he just wanted to hear my voice.
He never married. He did have kids, though. With five different women. Who does that? I always told myself I dodged a bullet when he broke up with me.
But I always wondered if there was anything else I could have said or done or been to make him keep loving me.
We stood there in the sand, the setting sun painting an painfully exquisite scene over the Irish Sea, and told him I loved him. But his back was to the water and he couldn't see what I could see and I used to think that was the problem.
He knew I loved him, of course. I told him again I loved him and I would move to England to be with him. I would have left school, all my friends and my family behind without a nano-second of hesitation.
There was no way he didn’t understand how I felt about him. And I had felt so sure of his feelings for me I just couldn’t believe it when he said no.
For weeks I was positive he would come around. I waited for the phone to ring and every time it did I was sure it would be Simon calling me to say I love you , please come back.
He called twice. The first time he called to tell me his sister was engaged. The second time he asked me to send him the scarf and hat he’d given me. It was an a collectors item, he’d said. His dad and he had gotten it the night of the stadium collapse when those fans had gotten trampled.
I gave him my heart and he wanted his fucking scarf.
I was so pathetic. For months I refused to cut him out of my life or break off contact with him or his family. His mother loved me and it didn’t help me let go knowing she wanted us to be together. Although she often said he didn’t deserve me.
Each year I received Christmas cards from his partents and his sister.
And every six or eight months my nineteen year old's heart re-brakes a little.
Lucy already knew a lot of this. I looked at my wrist to be funny.
“Actually, its almost time for a phone call from Simon.”
Lucy had her phone in her hand. We had just landed in Chicago.
“Hey! I see your face book post! I’m checking us both into Edinburgh, okay?”
“Sounds awesome,” I said.
“Is Simon on face book?”
“He friended me years ago but he never goes on. I don’t think he even has a profile picture.”