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This is Part Three of a four-part story.
When he awoke in the morning, he was alone. Indirect light was streaming through the room’s massive northwest window and from it he could see the tops of the dense, dry Santa Monica Mountains rising to meet the morning sky. He wanted to use the bathroom, but when he peeled back the bedcovers, he realized he was naked.
He looked around the room with momentary confusion and then found his clothes folded neatly on the nightstand next to the bed, his shoes on the floor beside it. He remembered that when he fell asleep they were still strewn haphazardly on the floor around the large bed.
The digital clock on the opposite nightstand read 7:37. That was quite late for him. He didn’t usually sleep past 6:00. It was not really a necessity anymore to rise so early. Fig Hill didn’t even open until 11:00 a.m., and if he worked a day shift, he didn’t need come in until 10:00. But when he was a principal, he was used to getting to school around 6:30 every morning. Getting up early had been part of his daily routine for as long as he could remember, and he saw no reason to change. In fact, it was early in the morning when he tried to get most of his writing done.
He found his boxer briefs among the clothes on the nightstand and stood up quickly and slipped them on. He thought maybe Caroline was in the bathroom, and despite the unabashed excesses of the night before, for some strange reason he didn’t want her to see him naked in the morning light. His fears were unfounded, as he discovered the bathroom empty, so he used the toilet and, afterward, washed his hands and face. He was feeling just a little crusty.
He always took a shower, shaved, and brushed his teeth when he first awoke in the morning, so he was somewhat annoyed at himself for not having brought his overnight bag upstairs with him. He remembered being a bit preoccupied when Caroline and he had made their way into her bedroom. A tube of toothpaste sat on the vanity top, so he squeezed a dollop onto his index finger and did his best to brush his teeth with it. When he returned to the bedroom, he dressed quickly. Yesterday’s clothes would do until he had a chance to shower.
He decided that Caroline must be downstairs, and despite the awkwardness that always seems inevitable the morning after the first night with a new paramour, he was excited to see her and looking forward with optimism to the promises of the new day.
As he descended the stairs to the main level of the house, he could smell the rich aroma of freshly brewed coffee, and it made him cheerful. Besides getting cleaned up, that was the other routine with which he began each day. It was nice to know that Caroline’s mornings started the same way his did.
He entered the great room to see her lounging on the sofa, her feet up, a cup of coffee on the table in front of her, and the larger of his two manuscripts in her hands. She looked up from her reading to greet him, “Good morning, Chris!” She sounded even more excited than usual, and that, he thought, was a very good sign.
She was wearing a casual pair of cropped jeans, and a faded, grayish and white striped, tie-dyed sweatshirt with the sleeves pushed up above her elbows. She was barefoot and wore no makeup. For jewelry, she sported only a simple, leather bracelet on her right wrist. As she looked up at him, her dark eyes sparkled in the bright room.
“Good morning, Caroline.” He smiled as he approached, and then bent down to kiss her politely on the cheek. “You got an early start on that”, he said nodding without emotion toward the manuscript. He noted the page number that she was reading and realized she had only a dozen more pages to finish. Considering the length of the story, she had to have been reading for at least an hour and a half already.
“Oh, Chris, this is really wonderful! It really is! I’m almost done, but it’s… my god… it’s just so well written! I can’t wait to finish. Grace — the character as a metaphor — that’s fucking brilliant! There’s so much going on! I love every word of it! It’s really unlike anything I’ve ever read before! You’ve got this whole amazing style! How is it you’re not a famous writer?”
He was embarrassed. Still, he smiled with genuine gratitude, even joy, but then deadpanned a sarcastic response, “Maybe it has something to do with the fact that you’re the first person — other than me — to ever read that story, to read any of my stories!”
“That’s crazy. That’s just fucking crazy! Why in God’s name have you been hiding your light under a bushel?” She was so excited that she jumped up and gave him a congratulatory hug. Before he could answer, her voice rang out again with frantic excitement, “Listen; I have to finish this! While I do, you go into the kitchen and get yourself a cup of coffee and some breakfast. You’ll find everything you need in there. I need about 15 minutes. Go, go! Let me finish! Then, we’ll talk. When you’re done eating, I think we should call my publisher!”
He was a little canlı bahis taken aback by how quickly things had advanced, and he had to admit that the whole thing made him just a little nervous. On the other hand, what Caroline was proposing exceeded even his wildest expectations, expectations that had prompted him to write to her in the first place.
Still, the night before had also exceeded his wildest expectations, and there was something about the way in which Caroline had invited him into her life that led him to believe that he should just throw caution to the wind and ride the giant wave on top of which he suddenly found himself.
On the other hand, his marriage and career had taught him that there were no guarantees. He knew that in five minutes he could find himself submerged in an ocean of heartache. Still, for the moment, that possibility didn’t really matter. When you’ve been drowning as long as he had, you’re likely to trust whoever pulls you from the drink and resuscitates you.
When he got to the kitchen, he saw a huge array of things set out on the granite countertop. There was a veritable garden of fresh, sliced fruits — strawberries, pineapple, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, grapes, and apples; several different types of bagels and cream cheeses; containers of orange, grapefruit, and cranberry juice; yogurt, oatmeal, and granola; a full cinnamon, coffee cake; a carton of skim milk, and a carafe filled with dark-roasted coffee, as well as cream and sugar to add to it. Next to all the food were clean plates, silverware, a cup and glasses. Next to the dishes was that day’s edition of The Los Angeles Times.
He didn’t usually eat much for breakfast — most of the time, just a bowl of cereal and coffee. But for some reason, he was famished that morning. Everything looked really delicious, so he piled a plate full of fruit, an onion bagel with veggie cream cheese, a gigantic piece of coffee cake, as well as a glass of grapefruit juice and a cup of coffee with cream and sat down at the kitchen table to eat and read the paper.
He was nearly done eating when Caroline silently slipped up from behind him, dropping the manuscript on the table, as she wrapped her arms around his chest and shoulders. He stood up and turned around to accept the embrace and realized that she was crying. “Thank you, thank you!” she said with difficulty. Tears pooled in her eyes, and then rolled down her cheeks. “Thank you for letting me read your story! It’s exceptional”, she oozed deferentially. “And the ending! You manage a happy resolution without being maudlin or sentimental! I’m just in awe of what you’ve accomplished! My writing doesn’t hold a candle to yours!” She drew his face to hers with both hands and kissed him. He could taste the salty tears on her lips.
He broke the kiss abruptly. He had to say something and fast. “Now, come on, Caroline. I mean, I’m glad you liked it, and I really appreciate the accolades and all, but that’s just a ridiculous thing to say! You’ve won awards! You’ve sold hundreds of thousands if not millions of books! I haven’t even published a story yet! I think because you know me and we… well, I think you have to consider the possibility that maybe you’ve lost your perspective, lost your objectivity on this story.”
“No, I don’t think so”, she said shaking her head with certainty as she continued to hold his face in her hands. “I mean, it helps to know your own personal story. To realize that everything you put down on paper is a part of you, and that you’re writing from an authentic, genuine place, but I’ve read enough manuscripts to know when fiction is honest and when it isn’t, and regardless of whether the reader knows anything about you or not really doesn’t matter. They’re going to realize… they’re going to recognize the truth in what you’ve written and, more importantly than that, the talent… it jumps right off the page!” She kissed him again. “How many stories have you written?”
“A couple dozen.”
“Jesus, really! If the others are half as good as this, you’ve got at least four or five collections worth of material to publish. With this story, I’d suggest a few slight changes, mostly pacing issues that would be pretty simple to resolve. On the other hand, you might not want to heed my advice anyway — you’re already so far beyond me that I might just mess you up. I’m not even sure I understand all of the different things you’re trying to do. There are techniques you’re using that are completely beyond me!”
He stared at her without emotion; he wasn’t really thinking about what she was saying. Instead, he was second-guessing himself, “You don’t think it’s too explicit or over-the-top in parts?”
“You mean the love scenes?”
“No, I think there is a beauty and artistry to those scenes that’s simply undeniable. What you’re describing is unequivocal — there’s no misinterpreting it despite the artistry, and yeah, you’re not shying away from the graphic details, but it’s all handled with such sophisticated and bahis siteleri elegant phrasing that the writing overshadows the explicitness of the scenes. And that’s what sets it apart from cruder, lesser prose.” She paused. “I think we should we call my publisher now.”
He frowned. “Now? It’s Saturday. Your publisher won’t be in today anyway, will he… or she? Also, I thought maybe you’d want to read another story first, because… well… how do you know that you won’t hate the next one? If you hate it, you’d feel pretty stupid about recommending my writing based on a single story.”
“I seriously doubt that I’ll hate it. It’s pretty clear that you know what you’re doing.” She paused. “And as for it being a Saturday, I have her cell number. Publishers pretty much work throughout the week anyway — if there’s money to be made they’re willing to talk business anytime! Besides, we’re friends, close friends, and she lives nearby; she’s not going to care whether it’s Saturday or not.”
“Trust me, I’m not trying to play coy, Caroline. I don’t understand one-tenth of one percent of what you know about the publishing industry. It’s just that this is all happening really fast, and there are a lot of things for me to be thinking about. I’d pretty much made up my mind that I would be the only person ever to read this stuff, and, you know, if it comes to that, that wouldn’t bother me all that much. To be honest, I guess I’m afraid that somebody is going to tell me that they like my story as long as I remove everything unorthodox or challenging, and that would turn it into just another a love story. I just don’t think I’m willing to do that.”
“Then, don’t do it. You can always say no, but you’ll never know whether you have the opportunity to say no, until you pitch your stuff to a publisher who is interested enough to make you an offer. I think I can save you the aggravation of sending off dozens and dozens of manuscripts to dozens and dozens of publishers, half of whom won’t even read the first paragraph. Look, all I’m saying is let me text Tanya to tell her I’ve got something that she really needs to read. You’ve got an electronic file of the story, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I brought my laptop. I’ve got files of all my stories, and they’re all backed up externally, just to be safe.”
“Good, then why don’t you email me The Awful Grace of God? I’ll send Tanya a text and tell her I’ve got a great story that she just has to read. When she gets back to me later this morning — and I promise you she will — I’ll email it to her. In the meantime, do you want to get cleaned up?”
He smiled. She had read his mind. “Yes, thanks for asking! God knows, I really need a shower.”
“Help yourself. Everything you need should be up there in the master bath. And while you’re getting cleaned up, I’ll read your other story. What’s the title of that one?”
“It’s called ‘Till Voices Wake Us.'”
She got a quizzical look on her face. “That sounds really familiar.”
“It’s Eliot — from ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.'”
“Oh yeah, that’s the final line, isn’t it?”
“I like the title. Is it as long as the first one?”
“No, it’s quite a bit shorter — only about 20 pages”, he answered on his way out of the kitchen. He found his satchel on the desk, pulled out his laptop and powered it up. In the meantime, Caroline returned to her seat on the sofa and settled in to read. Once his computer booted up, he opened his email, found her email address in his contacts, attached ‘Awful Grace’ to a new email and hit send. Then he powered down the laptop, put it back in his satchel, grabbed his overnight bag and just as he was heading up the stairs said matter-of-factly, “It’s in your inbox. I’ll be back down in a little bit.”
He spent a bit longer in the shower than he normally did. Part of the reason was the novelty of Caroline’s bathroom. It seemed as if the room featured every state-of-the-art bathroom luxury known to mankind.
The ceramic tile floors heated up as soon as you turned on the bathroom light. The light switch also activated a dehumidifying system that was built into the room’s walls and ceiling. Caroline told him later that the house also sported an on-demand hot water heating system, so you didn’t need to wait for the water to warm up.
And then there was the shower itself. All four walls of the large ceramic-tiled shower stall were outfitted with a myriad of showerheads. Each shot tiny spritzes of water from different angles and with different amounts of pressure, and all collectively used the same amount or less water than a single, conventional showerhead. Eight buttons turned the spray on and off: two for each wall — one of which controlled the upper showerheads, while another controlled the lower ones.
When he finished showering, shaving, brushing his teeth, and dressing, he stood at the massive bedroom window that overlooked the grounds and stared with awe for several minutes at the view: the fountain, pool, patio and the mountains bahis şirketleri that hovered over them. What he was viewing was a universe entirely apart from his own. He was lost in the daydream when behind him, Caroline’s voice interrupted his reverie, “Maybe you’d like to take a swim later on. Feel free to use the pool or the spa any time you want. I don’t do so nearly as often as I might.”
“I didn’t bring my suit”; he said glumly, turning to face her, “otherwise, I wouldn’t mind doing that.”
“Why do you need a suit?” she responded with a sardonic smile, wrapping her arms around him in an embrace while she craned her head upward to invite a kiss.
He smiled at the apparent joke, suspecting it was not a joke at all, and bent down to kiss her. “Well, did you finish?”
“I did. I think it’s even better than The Awful Grace of God, and that’s really saying something. I just can’t figure out how you learned all of the different techniques that you’re using — multiple points of view, non-chronological plot development, all the different forms of irony, incredibly complex symbolism and metaphor — and the dialogue! It just astounds me. It took me years to learn to write even halfway believable conversations.”
“I was an English teacher that read a lot of books and learned how to steal!” He smiled.
“Yeah, but most novice writers end up creating stories that sound more like parodies of their heroes than emulation. You’ve somehow absorbed it all and then fused all your influences together into something unique, as if you took a little bit here and a little bit there from all of them and used it to create something singular in the process.”
“I take that as a compliment!” he said proudly.
“You should! That’s was how it was intended. By the way, I’ve got some good news. Tanya called me back, and I sent her your story. She’s promised to read it, and then get back to me later today. She said she’s willing to come over afterward to discuss it, if you’d like that.”
“If that’s what you think is best, that’s fine. I trust your judgement.”
“Well, I think you’ll like Tanya — most men do. She’s spectacularly good-looking with the hottest body of any woman I’ve ever known — that always seems to help.” She dropped her hand to his ass and gave him a playful pinch.
He was embarrassed and didn’t know how to respond, so he said nothing, just shook his head and smiled stupidly. It was hard for him to know exactly how he was supposed to respond to such an overtly provocative overture.
Was it Caroline’s intention to tempt him or persuade him? Was it a trap to find out whether he was satisfied with her — her obviously ample skills at titillation and seduction — to gauge his reaction and then berate him if he showed too much interest in another woman’s sex appeal? Or was she just playfully teasing him, which is what he suspected? It struck him that the rules were different in L.A. than in the tamer, more conservative netherlands from which he hailed and that he was woefully ill-prepared to understand the conventions of the more permissive, libertine world of Hollywood.
“She’s also awfully good at what she does. She’ll be an excellent judge of the viability of your work in the publishing world.”
“Then, I look forward to talking to her.” He paused. “What do you want to do in the meantime?”
“Well, I thought I could show you around the rest of the place for a little bit, and then, after that, how about that swim? I was serious about the skinny dipping, you know! I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours!”
He laughed. “I kinda figured you were serious. But, I don’t know, isn’t someone likely to see us?”
“No, who’s going to see us? We have total privacy. My property’s gated, and none of the neighbors are up high enough to be able to view the pool from their houses. Anyway, no one’s coming over except Tanya. I’ll text her and tell her to drop by around 3:00. Does that sound about right? That gives us several hours of privacy. Besides, would it be so bad if someone did see us?”
She laughed a playful giggle, and he wrote the comment off as a joke. “Well, you don’t have anything to be ashamed of, but I, on the other hand….”
“Bullshit! You have a really nice body — as good, if not better than any man I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in the buff of late! Besides, you’re a fucking great writer! There’s nothing sexier than that! Come on, it’s a beautiful day. I’ll show you the rest of the house and the property and then we can go out to the pool and enjoy the day. Maybe later, after we’ve talked to Tanya, we can go for hike.”
“Sure, that sounds fine!”
“Alright, let’s go.”
They descended the stairs and continued on past the first level down to the exposed basement, which was far more elaborate than he expected. He realized that was how he’d begun to react to everything in Caroline’s home, or more broadly, everything in her world.
The basement level was arranged much like the other two floors. A main area which served as a massive game/family room sat at the center and opened to the patio through a set of large doors that folded back, allowing the lower level to be fully exposed to the outdoors in the event of a party or other occasion.
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