Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Fade To Black 02 April 2014

Hello, and welcome to the latest installment of Fade To Black. Hard to believe Allan and India have already known each other for three years. Time flies! Much has happened in those three years, and (heh, heh) much more is yet to come!

With two movies under his belt, Allan is really starting to focus on his career. He's still an exotic and flamboyant fellah, but he's entering his thirties now, and - despite his better intentions - with age comes maturity. And don't forget, having a relationship with someone as intense as India has placed quite a load on his soul.  It's something with which he's never had much experience. Other than with his parents, his whole life has been spent in games and the folly of the rich. I guess you could say he's never really been held accountable for himself. His personality and behaviours have always been cocooned in a tight circle of like-minds. Interesting psychology, for sure. But, as we're going to see, he isn't QUITE ready to enter the old folks home just yet!

India, on the other hand, has never been sheltered by anybody but herself. She's always been her own protector - well, there was ONE who tried to save her, but you'll have to read ahead to learn. Digging into her psychology is about to yield some secrets, and expose a more outwardly directed sensitivity to others. Um, well, to Allan anyway. Is she using Allan as a Safety Net, or is it possible she actually loves him?

Welcome to Act Three.


NOTE:

FADE TO BLACK IS FOR ADULTS. IT CONTAINS ALL MANNER OF DEBAUCHERY, NASTY LANGUAGE, MATURE CONTENT, DEPICTION OF ALTERNATIVE LIFESTYLES, ETC. IF IT'S NOT TO YOUR TASTES, YOU'LL KNOW PRETTY QUICKLY.


FADE TO BLACK IS NOT INTENDED FOR CHILDREN. AT ALL. EVER.


IF YOU ARE AN ADULT, AND WISH TO DIVE INTO THIS CRAZY WORLD, PROCEED. IF YOU ARE A CHILD, GO AWAY IMMEDIATELY.
_____________________________________________________________________

Fade to Black

© 2008 CL Seamus


ACT THREE
SOON WOULD BE FOUND



AND THIS MYSTERY EXPLORE

     November of 2000 - barely twenty, India was still too young to play Detective Loretta Marsh, the conniving cop in The Diabolical Detective. Her baby-face resisted womanly grace, and even though drugs and hard partying had taken a round out of her youth, she retained a natural innocence that needed more time to evolve. First thing was to get her on a diet - maybe drop some of the softness that kept her so childishly smooth. Nobody thought her fat - just too cherub-like. The cute dimples on her knuckles had to go. Loretta Marsh would be her first major role, and Allan was hesitant to have her do it while she still looked so young. The alternative was to do Night’s Lesson first, where the character of Ava Brace would more suit her age, but Allan’s vision had Detective first, and he was fussy about it. He’d rather have her do Ava Brace when she reached the actual age of the character, which was twenty-two.

     The glitch was that none of these parts had been written specifically for her. Henna James? She’d earned that from a chance meeting, and from being the perfect visual of what Allan had in mind. Helen Gables from Lady came off by the coincidence of their relationship, and the fact the part was also for a young adult. But Loretta Marsh was older. It wasn't something easily re-written, as when Allan changed Helen from the stepdaughter to the mistress. It was just as easy to explain a nineteen-year-old mistress as a nineteen-year-old step-daughter. In fact, the mistress angle had actually given the film a saucier edge. But you couldn’t explain a devious police detective who still had dimples on her knuckles. A diet was in order, as well as Allan’s decision to give it a year. By then she’d be twenty-one, and they could re-evaluate her look. What age and weight loss wouldn't do, make-up could probably handle.

     Ted had suggested that perhaps she wasn't right for the part at any age. There was no reason to assume India had to be in every film Allan made. She was good, but was she the only choice for Loretta Marsh? Both Ted and Dan asked Allan to make sure he wasn't just casting her because of their personal relationship. To Allan, the decision was easy.
__________

     Twenty-two-year-old Allan Baird stood alone in the emptiness of the big living room. Mother and Father were gone and he had the place to himself. When most young people said that, it usually meant they had time alone while the folks were at the movies. Time to sneak in the friends and have a quickie party before they got back. In this case, I have the place to myself meant he was now the owner of the ten thousand square-foot monster he’d called home his entire life. The folks hadn't gone to the movies. They’d moved to Scotland, land of his father’s fathers.

     He never bothered to move out when he’d come of age. Why would he? He’d had the entire third floor to himself since turning fourteen. There was a private entrance, and it was like his own apartment anyway. Even still, he enjoyed the company of his parents over breakfast, or evenings, when they’d play cards over tea and cake. In the end, they’d moved out on him, and he wasn't sure how he felt about it. He had friends, but only one Mum and Dad. He wanted them back. He wanted to cuddle up with Mum on the couch and talk about ideas he had.

I’m going into the film business

     Lonely was he, admittedly in a bit of a poor-me funk. He could call them. Not much of a brave face, was it?

     He stood another minute then went to the TV. He slipped in his beat-up old copy of Notorious and curled up to watch Bergman and Grant. What sort of movies to make? Not like the films they played around with at school. Splatter was too easy. No, it had to be something new. Something uniquely Allan. He soothed in Bergman’s intoxicating smile and wished he’d been around to write for her. She was the finest image of cinematic beauty he’d ever seen, especially in her salad days. With age, her playful face turned to one of elegance and dignity - a look he continued to respect - but in youthful roles, Ingrid was his special crush. If he could write movies, he’d write for her. No matter who played the parts for real, he’d always dedicate a female character to her beauty and inspiration. It would be tribute to the warm excitement of watching her work.

     The sadness of being alone eased as he drifted to sleep with Ingrid’s face in his dreams.

     India Bowman would play Detective Loretta Marsh. It was non-negotiable.
__________

     To bide time until it was right to start the picture, the couple rented a passenger van and went on a long, indulgent road-trip, just after Christmas. Feed souls and starve bodies. They packed the van with everything needed to live away from the world for as long as was deemed necessary.

     Without their nauseating togetherness all over the place, Coleman-Kopanski felt unexpectedly hollow. Though Allan and India’s perpetually annoying public displays of affection were disruptive, the air lacked for something without them. Even with Allan’s freak crew haunting the Box, there were things unique to the couple that were not easily duplicated. Nobody but Allan and India danced waltzes in the corridors. Nobody but Allan sat on the floor outside the ladies’ room and recited poetry while waiting for her to complete her tasks within.

I saw thee on thy bridal day, when a burning blush came o’er thee
Though happiness around thee lay - the world all love before thee
And in thine eye, a kindling light, whatever it may be
Was all on Earth my aching sight of loveliness could see

     The sound of the toilet flush would bring him to his feet as he’d await her return. So bloody annoying, but also romantic, in a you-need-to-cut-back-on-the-weed sort of way.

     In Allan’s absence, production manager Brody Lowe was probably the most intense among the “Baird Brigade.” Brody worked like a dog during filming, but had little to do while the King and Queen were off on their lark. About two months into the hiatus, once everybody had gone home for the night, the white-paint-Goth-faced Lowe, along with Tim Wallace, started inviting vampires to conduct blood rituals in the Box. When the regular staff would arrive in the mornings, remnants of the night’s events would be cleaned up; but someone got careless just once, and the morning receptionist found smears of dried blood on her desk. The scream that echoed through the building should have been caught on tape for use in someone’s horror film. Though neither Wallace nor Lowe admitted to anything, suspicions were obvious. Thereafter, the Box was equipped with hallway video cameras and the vampires took their rituals elsewhere.
__________

     On the road, Allan and India owed nothing to showbiz. They danced under the stars, swam naked in quiet creeks, shopped unrecognised in small town markets, and opened their hearts to each other. There appeared some darker moments, too - moments Allan learned to embrace as part of his lady’s soul. She’d speak of fear, how she’d hear the car in the lane and start crying even before he opened the door. She’d beg her mother’s ghost to help her from the other side. Mary died before the child’s tenth birthday, but even during her decline, Sean had begun to abuse his daughter. There had been a son, too: Perry, six years older than Annalee.  He'd been lost in a car crash a month before Mary succumbed.

     Sean finds eight-year-old Annalee in her small, messy
room. Why does she never keep things neat? Mary
never does anything to watch the kids anymore. Always
saying she’s sick. I’m sick, too - sick of this shit.
I’m not the woman, goddammit.
He grabs her by the hair. “Pick up this mess!”
She screams and wets herself. He never used to hit her
like this before Mum got sick. “I’ll pick it up!” she cries.
He drops her to the floor. “Pissed your pants, too?
What the hell is wrong with you?” He looks at her toy
cars on the floor. “When are you going to start
acting like a girl instead of a boy? You’re a
fucking girl, Annalee!” Fourteen-year-old
Perry comes in and scoops up the child. “Leave her
alone!” he shouts. “I’ll take care of her.
I’ll see it gets picked up.” Perry takes a serious
backhand across the face for that,
but at least Sean leaves. Perry sits Annalee
on the bed and dries her tears with his
shirt. “Hey, pretty girl. Mum’ll get better soon
and Daddy won’t be so mad all the time. Right?”
Annalee hugs him. “You saved me.”

     Allan would replay his own memories, but couldn’t recall ever being spanked. Maybe a slap on the rump, or a tap to the cheek to get his attention if he was tossing a fit, but never a spanking as punishment.

     She’d told him some time ago about PROTECTION MODE. If Sean would beat her, she’d simply go away. Later on, when the abuse turned sexual, she’d really go away. Even after it was over, she’d continue to act out the little roles where she was safe and well loved. She’d set up dolls and dirty stuffed animals to be the gentle people in her real family. They’d sit and eat together, being friendly and kind. As actor, India would invoke the inner demons to force her into the roles as safe places. But PROTECTION MODE came at a cost. It drained her of strength, and when she’d come out of it she’d often be moody and whiny for weeks. She’d come very close to telling Allan about the abortion, but couldn’t bring herself to it. No place on Earth could she retreat to find safety from breaking his heart. This she’d take to the grave.
__________

And this was the reason that long ago, in this kingdom by the sea, a wind blew out of a cloud by night, chilling my Annabel Lee So that her high-born kinsmen came and bore her away from me To shut her up in a sepulchre in this kingdom by the sea

     On the last night before going home, they lay in the back of the van and smoked the last of the hash. “If you died,” said Allan as he exhaled a lazy curl of smoke, “I would kill myself.”

     “Would you really do it?”

     He frowned and considered. “I think so. Would you kill yourself if I died?”

     “Sure. I’d never want to love another man. Men suck.”

     He grinned the shit-eater. “Oh, I dunno. I find them kinda cute.”

     She tapped his shoulder. “You never answered my other question.”

     “Which one? The ‘Which is better - sex with a man or a woman?’ question?”

     “Yes.”

     “I can’t answer it.”

     “You haven’t even tried.”

     “Have sex with a woman and make up your own mind.”

     She stretched and lay on her side next to him. “Women suck, too. I’m afraid we’re stuck with each other. Me, the only woman you can be with, and you, my only safe place.”

     He snuggled up close to face her. “Would you have sex with someone else and let me watch?”

     “No.”

     “Why not?” A disappointed, pouty face.

     “Oh. Like it’s an entitlement.”

     “Do you love me, Bowman?”

     “I do, I do, I do,” she cooed through playful kisses.

     He leaned up on his elbow. “Let’s have a ceremony. Say vows to each other. Under the stars.”

     Her eyes twinkled. “You want to?”

     “Absolutely. Last night before we go back.”

     She sat up. “Let’s do it.”

     Outside the back of the van, in the dead of night, they took flash-lit photos of each other, stripped naked, and promised eternal devotion.

     Through hazed and lazy eyes said he, “I promise to love you always. If I die, I’ll love you from the other side.”

     She drifted in dope-calm and said back to him, “To the one who holds my heart with gentle hands. I’ll love you always.”

     They followed this scene of drug-induced melodrama by performing Wallace’s ritual technique of cutting themselves and tasting each other’s blood. And that was it.


THE PALPITATING AIR

     What Lucy couldn’t handle of India’s mail had been stored in boxes in Allan’s office. There was also mail for him, but it was a much smaller collection.

     Dan found Allan crouched on the floor by the boxes, the whale-tail of his pink thong poking up from the back of his trousers. The producer just smiled. “Pretty wild, eh? While you guys were gone, it’s been like this all the time. People calling. Showing up.”

     Allan rummaged through the letters. “How am I supposed to get through all this?”

     “Come with me. I want you to meet someone.”

     He stood. “Indie’s coming. I guess we could go through some of this together. Are we having a meeting this week? I want to talk to Gail and get some of the--”

     “How was the holiday?”

     “Huh? Oh. Good. Feels strange to be back.”

     “India have a good time?”

     “She had a wonderful time. We both did. Cathartic.”

     “Did she drop some weight?”

     Allan winked. “You won’t recognise her.” He followed Dan into the office.

     In a chair by the desk propped a primly suited woman with severely good posture. She might have been forty-five. Dan made introductions. “Allan Baird, this is Marcie Elliott.”

     Though a lot of the hot air had been deflated from out his pretentious balloon, Allan still held up his trademark bussable hand. “Morning,” he offered curiously.

     Her face became a stare of judgement. A man with eyeliner, nail polish and a pink muscle shirt. Wonderful. She regarded the plastic belt that cinched his baggy cargo pants - a belt adorned with pictures of kitties. “Good morning, Mr. Baird,” she said, her handshake as limp as his own.

     Dan wondered how this would go. “Remember when Lucy was hired to help India with her mail and such?”

     “Uh huh.” He took a seat on the couch.

     “Marcie’s going to provide the same service for you.”

     Allan’s cheek twitched.

     “I’ll perform all the duties of a personal assistant,” said Marcie in a stern, regimented voice.

     Allan stood fast and faced Dan. “But I don’t want an assistant,” he objected in tantrum. “I have an assistant. I have Rennie. Whose idea was this? Ted’s? Let me talk to him.”

     “Rennie doesn't answer your mail, and Ted’s out of town. Did you see the size of the stack in that box?”

     Allan stepped back. “I don’t care.” A rude, mocking and dismissive gesture. “Look at her. She’ll hurt me.”

     Marcie sighed impatiently. “I assure you, Mr. Baird, I am a professional.”

A professional what?

     “I’m sure you are, honey,” he sniffed with disdain. “But I don’t need anybody going through my things.”

     Dan moved to the couch. “Allan. Sit.”

     He flopped to his ass. “You’re not talking me into this.”

     “Listen to me. This isn't like the old days when we all took care of our own affairs. This place is busy now and everybody’s workload is growing. We have all kinds of hiring to do. There are seven major parts to be cast and we have a stack of faces this high. You have to get back on the horse. Holiday’s over, son. I’ll bet you haven’t even started the breakdowns. And you told me you were going to work on the age thing with ‘Loretta’. Weren't you going to do a thing about her past? You’re going to be busy.”

     But Allan was sleepy. Not yet back to that creative place. “I like being busy,” he blinked. I’ll be fine.”

     “We have all this mail. There are interviews coming up. It’s not just Vampire Life. You have human requests now. You haven’t seen what’s been going on around here. Regular press has been asking for you. This is the wider audience you've been looking for.” He sat back, crossed his leg. “You need an assistant.”

     Allan scowled at Marcie. “You’re not going to like me.”

     She stood and smoothed her skirt. “Nor you me, I suspect. But that’s showbiz.”

     Allan let go a soft whimper. He so badly wanted a big joint to numb his brain from her. “I hate you,” he snorted toward Dan.

     Allan stomped out. Marcie followed. He burst into his office; his mind raced and plotted for ways to get rid of her. First thing he did was to strip naked. “I don’t always wear clothes in my office,” he sneered, sling-shotting his frilly pink panties at her.

     She ducked from them and calmly shut the door. “You’ll want privacy then.”

     He rummaged in the pockets of his trousers. “Plus I smoke dope, okay? I hope you like getting high, because it’s gonna cloud up in here.” He tucked a joint in his lips.

     She sat on the couch and crossed her leg. “Light that and I’ll call the police.”

     He giggled weakly and stuffed it back in his pocket.

     Marcie watched him. He was skinny and devoid of body hair, save for a neatly clipped heart-shape tuft just above his dick. He was tanned everywhere, which meant he probably did spend a lot of time naked.

     Allan’s rusted cogs began to creak from complacent sleep as he mulled over what to do next. He opened his desk and took out a pill bottle. He considered, then showed it to her. “My prescription.”

     “That’ll be fine,” she said dryly.

     He tucked pills under his tongue.

     The door flung open. India “Have you seen the stack--”

     Allan gasped and grabbed his pants.

     India stink-eyed him, then offered a hand to Marcie, “India Bowman.”

     Marcie smiled. The lady didn’t look anything like her movies - thin, tanned, and naturally pretty. And her handshake was firmer than Allan’s by far.

     “Marcie Elliott. I loved ‘Lady of Desire’.”

     “Um, thank you.” A frown in Allan's direction. “Do I have to ask?”

     He pulled on his pants. “Dan’s making me have an assistant.”

     “And this is what... ? An audition?”

     Marcie laughed easily. “He’s trying to make me uncomfortable so I’ll leave.”

     “I see.” She passed them and lifted keys from the desk, unlocked a cabinet behind the door, and pulled out a box.

     Allan recognised it and squirmed in excitement. “Now you’re gonna get it.” He clapped his hands and fell to his chair as India calmly removed a big purple strap-on dick.

     Marcie backed to the door. The smile fell off her face. “If you think you’re touching me with that thing...”

     India blinked coyly. “Don’t be ridiculous. I’m going to put it on myself and fuck my husband in the ass with it while you watch.”

     Click. The door closed. Marcie was gone.

     Allan howled and ran over. “You are so gooood,” he laughed as he hugged her. “Now I know why I married you!”

     She laid the device back in the box. “You just have to know how to handle women.”

     “Wait a minute,” he frowned. “Why are you putting that away?” A playful lash-bat. “Didn't I hear something about an ass-fucking?”

     Dan exited the men’s room to find a red-faced Marcie standing in front of him. “I quit,” she huffed.

     He rolled his eyes and adjusted his zipper. “What did he do? The naked thing?”

     She pointed toward the door. “Not him. The woman.”

     “India’s here? I have to see her.” He started toward the offices. “I hear she’s lost weight.”

     “Wait a minute. I wouldn't go in there if I were you.”

     Dan clasped the door handle. “Why not?”

     “Well, she may or may not be... using a dildo on him.”

     Dan looked at his watch. “We've got time for lunch then. Come on. We’ll discuss your resignation over egg salad.”

     Nice to see that things were getting back to normal.

     The cafeteria bustled as noon approached. Dan sat across from Marcie. “So, what do you think? Can you handle him?”

     She shook her head. “He had marijuana.”

     “That’s showbiz. I think I heard someone say that.”

     “Please tell me it’s not like this all the time. Tell me it’s an act because he doesn't want an assistant.”

     “Allan’s a sweetie, and India’s just messing with you.”

     “I don’t know, Dan.”

     “Just keep busy. Answer the mail. In a month you’ll be best friends.”
__________

     Door closed, stereo on. Allan typed furiously at his computer. All the fan letter replies started with, “Sorry it’s taken so long to answer, but...”

     Marcie burst in and clicked off the music. She slammed a manila envelope on his keyboard. “This is mail I don’t know what to do with.”

     His eyes narrowed. “Don’t you ever fucking knock?”

     “I call it Pervert Mail. Naked pictures. People asking to have various parts of their bodies sucked.”

     He chuckled under his breath. “Ever suck anything yourself, Marcie? I've got fifteen minutes.”

     She held her ground. “Is this the part where you try to shock me again with your lifestyle?”

     “Fuck off. Go suck something.”

     “Frankly, I don’t know what all the fuss is about. You’re more white bread than I am.”

     “Are you going to leave or shall I start masturbating?”

     “Go ahead, Mr. Shock Value. Ooh, the man masturbates. I’m the mother of four boys, all between eleven and sixteen. I’m familiar with masturbation.”

     “I’ll bring in my wife. We’ll tie you to a chair and perform oral sex on each other for your amusement.” He typed faster and growled under his breath.

     “Pretty sad when a man has to bring in his wife to take care of things for him.”

     He rummaged through his drawer. “Whatever Dan’s paying you, I’ll double it to make you go away.” He slammed his chequebook on the desk.

     “Kiss my ass,” she laughed. “I like it here.”

     He grabbed a small packet from his out-box and threw it at her. “Mail this, you dried up worthless hag!”

     People passing in the hallway began gathering to check out the commotion. The office door finally opened and Marcie stepped out, her face an amused grin. She paused and glanced back at Allan. “Coffee?”

     He blinked innocently. “Tea, please. Have you seen India?”

     “She may be in the cafeteria.”

     “Thank you, bitch.”

     “Cocksucker.”

     She closed the door, smiled sweetly at the onlookers, and dropped Allan’s package in the mail bin.
__________

     Like India, Rennie’s room on the Conversion lot was in one of the ground level workshops shared by all four companies. It was a space of respectable size, but in the care of the less-than-sophisticated occupant, seemed always cluttered with useless equipment. Among his collection of garbage lay an old non-functioning arc light, two ripped-apart 8mm movie projectors, and a greasy motorcycle engine. If one didn’t know, one might think it a storage garage.

     On the cluttered desk was an old but functional computer, behind which sat the man himself. He typed with four fingers and enjoyed a soft background of techno dance music.

     In clumped Allan, arms about a big box of paperwork. “Can you help me with these?”

     Rennie took the box. “Where’s Bowman?”

     Allan didn’t like it when Rennie asked that. “Why?” But he knew why.

     Rennie put the box on the desk and looked through the files. “A lot of new faces, I guess. Think it’s better to go with people we already know? But I wouldn’t mind talking to this Anthony Rotario guy. He sounds interesting.”

     Allan strolled to examine the junk piled on shelves and in corners. He picked up a police bullhorn. “Does this work?” Rennie showed him how to turn it on and Allan put it to his mouth. “Did you miss me while I was on holiday?” The sound rattled off the walls.

     Rennie took it and boomed a response. “Not so loud! People will think we’re up to something in here!”

     They passed it back and forth. “Did you miss me?”

     “Terribly!” Rennie thundered.

     “Been seeing anybody?”

     “Dave Rabelle!”

     “From ‘The Stars’ magazine?”

     “That’s the one! He has a very small dick!”

     “Poor thing!”

     They laughed together. Rennie set down the bullhorn. “I’m not used to seeing you tanned.” He cupped his chin. “You almost look healthy.”

     Allan backed to the wall and folded his arms. They just looked at each other. The holiday had separated them for a year, and during that time, Allan had fallen in love with India. Rennie was always special, but it was over. “It’s not going to happen,” he said softly.

     Rennie sat on the edge of his table and took Allan’s hand. “We’re friends.  Since college. Come here.”

     Allan resisted. “I don’t think so.”

     “You won’t even stand near me anymore?”

     Allan took a few steps but kept his eyes to the floor. Rennie hooked his belt loops and pulled him closer. “Holden’s been calling. A lot since he heard you were back.”

     “What does he want?”

     “A job. He said Bingham won’t use him in any more movies because steroids make his face all pocky.”

     Allan snickered. “Steroids?”

     “Hmm. Where’s India?”

     Allan held his shoulders and stepped between his legs. “Either in her dressing room or not here yet. I was going to check after I dropped off the box of faces.”

     “Did she have a good time?”

     “Mmm.” He nuzzled Rennie’s neck. “I have to go.”

     Rennie closed his eyes and enjoyed the old familiar touch. “So go, Baird.” When Allan’s hand reached his crotch, Rennie took his wrist. “Don’t do that. Some second rate consolation prize.”

     Allan pressed close. “It’s all I can do.”

     “Then don’t do anything.” He leaned in and kissed his ear.

     Allan’s gaze dropped again. “Are you staying with the picture?”

     Rennie fiddled with the bullhorn. “Yeah, I’ll stay. I mean, I don’t know why, but I’ll stay.”

     “I still want to do those Shorts when we get some time. Are you in for that, too?”

     “Friends are friends, asshole.”

     Allan exhaled. “Monday morning. Meeting in the Box.” He hugged himself. “I have to go. Take a look at the faces, would you?” Then he was gone.

     Rennie lifted the bullhorn and bellowed to the closed door. “Motherfucker!”
__________

     It had been decided to go ahead with the picture, even though India was too young for Loretta Marsh. Summer of 2002 was fast approaching and they wanted the ball to roll. In the first days of pre-production, they spent time trying out make-up and hairstyles to make a youthful twenty-one-year-old get as close to mature as possible. Her soft hands were still so innocent of experience. No slaving over dishes in a sink. No scrubbing of floors.

No bathing babies or changing diapers

     An interesting touch was when India proposed Loretta wear cloth gloves as often as possible. If she was supposed to be diabolical, gloves only made it more so. And this time, when she suggested it at a table discussion, she did so without pawing at or sweet-talking Allan into accepting a concept the others might find unsuitable. Confident now in her contribution to the effort, India spoke when she had something to say, and did so without having to add the weight of Allan’s support to her argument. She was her own person now. If not her body, her mind was growing up.


NONE SO DEVOTIONAL

     In addition to the movie, Allan added to his workload the decision to sell the big house and purchase a single dwelling brownstone closer to town. He’d found a nice custom-renovated corner building on a quiet residential street, about five minutes from Conversion. It consisted of a basement and three floors, the top being an open-beam space used by the former owner as an art studio. The front yard was but a narrow strip of grass, contained - like others along the street - behind a low stone fence. In back grew a modest garden near the small rectangular pool, and the corner location meant a nice perimeter of shade trees.

     Bit by bit, with each passing year, Allan had been losing sentimental attachment to the old house. As well, there was too much upkeep. He constantly had to consider yard and pool maintenance. It became an issue of practicality. The brownstone amounted to five thousand square feet, half the size of the Baird house. He'd called his parents and had suggested they come out and claim all they wanted before he gave up the place, since his plan included leaving to the new owners all furniture and trimmings not taken by the time he was ready to move.

     The Bairds were glad for a chance to meet India, but sad that it would happen during the final visit to their old home. More than thirty years with a Baird occupant. Since it had been legally transferred to Allan’s ownership, the Bairds had no money owed them from its sale, but looked forward to collecting their valuables before he put it on the market. Allan stood to make a nice profit. The house had been well maintained, and - with the exception of the personal touches downstairs - kept original in its preservation. He contracted for work to have the basement restored to a more traditional layout.

     India wasn’t as excited about the move. She liked the big house and didn’t relish the idea of being on a residential street with neighbours so close. Though she herself had grown up in the mix of such regular surroundings, she’d gotten spoiled for the seclusion and privacy afforded at the mansion. Her biggest concern was that the open street, with no protective barrier, meant that fans could come right up and knock on the door.
__________

     The Bairds were not what India expected. With the phone conversations she’d overheard about museums and travel, she figured on a pair of rich snobs, even though Allan described them as unassuming and easy going. Arthur, still known simply as “Mondo”, was a Ted Coleman sized beast with a tree trunk physique. His once dark hair had salted somewhat, but youthful good looks bought him ten years despite the grey. The voice was a rich baritone with remnant echoes of his family’s brogue. Lisa was Allan’s height - thin, with the naturally pale, freckled skin of the strawberry blonde. At forty-eight, the long locks of youth had given way to an easy-to-maintain shag, but Lisa would always remain a hippie at heart.

     When they met at the airport, Mondo instantly took India in a monstrous bear hug, but when he felt her body stiffen in apprehension, eased back to a gentler embrace. Allan had confided in them the story of India’s life and they absorbed it with all the discretion of caring parents. What was Allan’s was theirs. Whom he loved, so they loved also. India became daughter sight unseen because of the emotion in their son’s voice when he spoke of her down the phone. India tried to let them have the same space in her heart as she’d given Allan. It had taken a long time to let him in, so nobody expected her to cosy up overnight, but they’d be staying two weeks so at least there was time to try.

     As they sorted through what would be shipped out, time was spent in sidetracked enjoyment of an endless collection of photographs. India had seen some of the family albums, but what they brought out now was from deep attic storage, so it seemed a whole new world. Every picture that featured the scrawny boy shone with the happiness of his infectious grin. Later that evening, they’d all gathered for a session of pot smoking and reminiscing of old times. She’d heard Allan mention they were recreational users, but it nonetheless felt weird to be doobing up with someone’s parents. At one point, she’d loosened up enough to joke that she should bring out some of her own childhood photos. Said she had some nice black & whites of the black & blues on her ass. If it wasn’t for the fact that they’d all been stoned, somebody probably would have started crying.
__________

     In the quiet of late night, Lisa puttered in the kitchen. “Hi,” she offered when Allan shuffled in. “Just grabbing some tea before bed.”

     He sat and dumped his chin in his hands. “Make me some?”

     She put out cups with teabags, and sat while the water boiled. “She’s a pretty special girl.”

     Allan considered. “It’s always been easier for me to relate to girls emotionally.”

     “What happened to Rennie?”

     “He’s still here. I just don’t date him anymore. It’s an ongoing fight. He says we’ve been breaking up since we met.”

     Lisa laughed. “Anybody else in the picture?”

     “I haven’t been seeing anybody but India for over a year.”

     “I think the fact that you’re seeing a girl at all makes your father very happy.”

     He exhaled in thought. “What does it make me?”

     She poked his chest. “You've been asking that question your whole life. You’re Allan. You’ve never let gender rule your feelings. What it makes you is special.”

     He fiddled with the teabag string. “If I fail her? I’ve already failed Rennie. I still love him, but I can’t--”

     “You haven’t failed anybody. Stop breaking your own heart. The world turns, Allan. You get what you get, remember?”

     He half-smiled. “If someone turned your head from Father, would you see it through such practical eyes?” He linked with her fingers across the table. “Being in love with only one person sure makes it easy, hey?”  If Mondo had been with them, the conversation would have been different. Only Lisa indulged him the nuances of his dark romantic musings.

     “Did you like the movie?” he finally asked.

     “Very much. I love seeing your name on such a big screen. I loved the first one, too. India was so haunting. How did you get her to cry like that?”

     He rolled his eyes. “Don’t ask.”

     After tea, Allan went upstairs and peeked into India’s bedroom. She and Mondo sat cross-legged in the blankets. “Oh, my,” Allan sniffed. “This looks serious.” He noticed India’s eyes were puffy. “Private chat?”

     She dabbed her nose with a tissue. “I had a nightmare and it woke Mondo. He decided to come and check up on me.”

     “I’m a source of extreme comfort,” his father grinned - a familiar shit-eater.

     India laughed, glad to be free of her unconscious mind. “You look like Allan when you do that.”

     “Well, he looks like me, but I get it.”

     “Your father’s learning I’m a big crybaby.”

     Allan climbed onto the bed and pushed Mondo to his back. “What are you doing in bed with my girl?” They wrestled and rough-housed, Allan not having much chance against the big man.

     India pushed at Mondo with her bare feet. “Careful. Someone’s going to get hurt.”

     Mondo pinned Allan face down to the mattress and held him by the back of the neck. “Surrender!” he called triumphantly.

     India got panicky. “Don’t do that. Let him up.”

     Allan gestured subtly and the grip was released. “We’re just horsing around,” he assured her as he got to his knees. "We do this all the time. It’s okay.”

     She booted at his leg, her face hectic and frustrated. “Okay, well that’s great, but someone’s going to get hurt, so... just don’t do it near me.”

     Lisa came in. “So this is a group thing?”

     Mondo stood up fast. “Uh oh. The wife. Pretend we’re not doing anything. India? If she asks, you don’t know me.”

     They shared easy laughs. Quite unexpectedly, India gave Mondo a hug. “You’re so sweet,” she whispered. “Thanks for coming to my rescue.”

     He held her gently. “No problem, baby. Anytime.”
__________

     When the Bairds finally finished packing the chosen items to be carted away, the house echoed from all the holes where once lived their history. Childhood. Love. Family. How does one move away from that? Hired men simply hauled away the selected art and furnishings. India went along for the ride to the airport. She’d come to like the Bairds very much, and cried when they left. It had been a very long time since she’d been able to place herself into the mental photograph of a family. It felt surreal and unsure, but she took what she could when it came to bouts of good vibes. Allan, too, shed tears, the image in his mind that of mother and father, son and daughter hugging, in a drawing done long ago by a terrified child.





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