This is just a story I had some fun with the last year. I'm not a writer, but I try to be one sometimes. Warning, though; if you don't like cursing, smoking, or drinking, there's a little of all of it in this story, so read at your own risk. And thank you to those of you who do read on!
The Accidental Muse
An interesting little invention. Some say it's the beginning of the end for mankind, while others click away to their heart's content, buying, chatting, researching, not to mention some of the more unsavory activities that can be pursued online.
Some swear up and down that the ability to 'log on' has taken the intimacy out of relationships and opened up a whole new arena for criminals and the ill-willed, yet others'll tell you the www.world has allowed people from across the planet the chance to know and learn from each other when they'd otherwise have never had such an opportunity.
In reality, perhaps that world on the screen in front of you is a little of both.
For Annabelle Bruce, it was a complete surprise to see which stance she ended up taking on the subject.
Annabelle, or Anne, as she preferred, had fought the technology bug for ages, swearing up and down that buying a computer wasn't just unnecessary, but that it was 'inhuman' to boot... literally. And the idea of logging on and talking to total strangers? About as dumb as, to use a favorite phrase of hers, 'a box of hammers'.
That was four years ago.
The woman with a well-worn pc in her living room and the laptop always handy would openly admit to anyone that she's a convert.
Four years...and in that time, Anne's guiltless surrender to the world wide web hadn't just netted her a whole new universe, she'd also managed to meet and stay in touch with a small group of friends she'd otherwise have never had the pleasure of knowing.
They were a motley group of women, varying widely in age and location, but differing only slightly in thought and personality. Geographically, they lived all over the continent, but electronically; they shared their own little space, and shared it well.
From Jackie, or Jac, the seventy-something 'take-no-shit' matriarch of the group, to Sue, the West Coast single mom who busted her ass cleaning houses to raise her two kids, to Tami, the Canadian 'domestic technician' with a heart of gold, on down the line to Julie, the New Age artist from Phoenix, to the baby of the group, Gwenn, the Georgia Peach and sorority sister whose former innocent and sweet little self had been wonderfully corrupted by her online group of gal friends...the diverse gathering of email buddies had formed a tried and true friendship in the last couple of years.
They talked about everything, judged nothing, and emailed each other religiously. When one needed help, the others provided it. When one had a good day, the others celebrated. When one cried, the others sent cyberhugs and swore evil curses on the source responsible for the tears. To sum it up, when one hit any rise or fall in life, the others were right there, riding alongside on the rollercoaster.
Their communications quickly went beyond emails to regular phonecalls, even to meeting in person when the opportunity allowed, and the extended contact had done nothing but strengthen the bond between the group, who by this time, had affectionately named themselves 'The Broads'.
Anne, the token Texan, had found her niche in this strong group of women. Her sense of humor had been well-received, her thoughts on life not only listened to, but sought after, naturally giving her the role of 'Broad Counselor'. Hell, the other women had even come to overlook the fact that Anne was wealthy. Of course, it's not hard to overlook such a thing when the person with the dough doesn't act like a person with dough. Anne was far from being your average spoiled little rich girl.
She'd never lived the kind of life one with alot of money usually did. No sprawling mansion, no personal staff, no fancy clothing or cars, nothing one would imagine a woman with Anne's means would have. In fact, she lived a modest lifestyle. She never flaunted her money, never swam in social circles, never was anything but embarrassed at the fact her wealth had come from inheritance. She loved garage sales, thrift stores, flea markets, and her idea of a night on the town had nothing to do with the opera, or with 500 dollar-a-plate fundraisers. No, Anne's idea of a great night on the town was walking four blocks down to lower Greenville Avenue and taking in a game or two of 9-ball at the Cue and Rack while listening to Stevie Ray Vaughn sing from the jukebox about Willie the Wimp and his Cadillac Coffin.
Though she was far from being miserly with her bank account, Anne lived a comfortable but unpretentious life, and was always willing to share the wealth when someone else needed it.
And as she dozed away in her bed one morning, the ringing phone at her bedside working its way into her dream, slowly calling her out of her unconsciousness, it would soon become evident that one of those 'share the wealth' circumstances was about to make itself known.
"Hello?" Anne made no attempt to disguise the sleep in her voice. She felt like she'd taken ten Tylenol PMs, and sounded like she'd taken twenty.
"Anne, it's Jac. Did I wake you?"
"Yeah, but that's ok. I was having a doozy of a dream, and I'm glad you brought me out of it."
"Oh? Bad one, huh?"
"Well, it involved Wink Martindale in a thong. That answer your question?"
"I'd say that definitely does, Kid. Thank God I rang when I did. Sounds like it was about to get pretty ugly."
"Yup. As usual, I owe you one, you old fart. What's up?" Cackling briefly at being called 'old fart', Jac straightened her tone, and got down to business.
"Well, Redneck, I take it you haven't checked your email today?"
"Sue's in the hospital. Before you blow a gasket, don't worry; she's going to be fine." Jac jumped right into the second part of her words, knowing Anne would indeed blow a gasket if she didn't stress the fact that Sue was okay.
"Holy shit! What happened?" No more sleep in Anne's voice as she sat up in her bed and fished for a cigarette.
"Well, she'd been having abdominal pains yesterday, but went to work anyway. Ignored them and didn't go to the doctor like she should've. She ended up doubled over and screaming in the grocery store last night on her way home. Doc says it's a combination of an ovarian cyst and some fibroid tumors. Nothing cancerous, but definitely something she's going to have to have surgery for. They're prepping her as we speak."
Anne took a heavy drag on her first Marlboro light, closing her eyes and rubbing her forehead and eyelids as the nicotine rushed through her system.
"Oh my God! Jac, I'm glad she's gonna be okay, but with her boys and her bills, not to mention no help from that son of a bitch ex-husband of hers, how's Sue going to recover from this financially? She's living from paycheck to paycheck! She loses one check, and she's in deep crap. Think I could talk her into taking some money?"
Jac answered practically before Anne finished her question.
"Nope. Already tried that. She won't take a dime. Goddamned pride's gonna be her end, if you ask me. Besides, she has no sick leave, and she's gonna be out awhile. She's got bigger problems than making up a paycheck or two. You know what her boss is like. If she's out too long, she's out of work. Thank God she's got her own insurance; otherwise she'd be completely fucked."
Anne stifled the urge to laugh at the sound of the seventy-something woman saying 'fuck', and thought out loud on the matter at hand.
"Ok. Let me think on this a second. The ideal solution here would be to somehow keep her paycheck coming in without letting her boss know, right?" The gears in Anne's head started turning more easily with each puff on her ever-shortening cigarette.
"Yup. Which is why I called you, my good buddy. Got a problem? Call Anne; she always knows what to do. The Broads and I decided to defer to you on this one, and we're ready to help with whatever idea you can dig up out of that sneaky head of yours."
"Well, I'm glad you broads have faith in me, Jac, but this one's kinda tough. Hey, wait a minute. How many jobs does she have going on at the moment?" An idea began brewing in Anne's head.
"One major one that I know of, the daily one for some guy in Hollywood. Then there are four or five more that are only a couple trips per week."
"Okay. How 'bout the kids? Who's watching them?"
"Sue's mom has them for the time being. The kids are taken care of, so that's not a problem."
A long pause in the conversation as Anne ground out her cigarette and organized her thoughts.
"Ok. Here's what we do. Sue's boss can't know what's going on. I'd hire someone to fill in for her, but then we'd have the paycheck problem, so that's not gonna work. So, we'll do this instead; I'm gonna catch a flight to LAX as soon as possible and make sure I get there by this evening. In the meantime, I need you to talk to Sue's mom, and have a list ready for where I'm supposed to go and what I'm supposed to clean. Any little tidbits of info on her housekeeping clients I might need would be greatly appreciated, Jac. And if you can find out how often Sue reports to the boss at the cleaning service, let me know."
A wave of laughter met Anne on the other end of the line.
"Redneck, are you saying what I think you're saying? You're telling me you're gonna fly from Dallas to L.A. today and become a housekeeper? Anne, do you even know how to clean?"
"Of course I do, you wicked old woman! Think about it; this is about the only way we're gonna be able to keep her paycheck coming in and keep her job intact. Hey, I'd much rather just dish out some money and fix this, but we both know Sue's not going to make it that easy for me. This is about the only thing I can do." As bizarre as it sounded, both women knew that this solution was going to be the only one with half a chance of being successful.
"Okay, then. But let me run this by the Broads first, Anne. Maybe one of us can join you there, help you with some of Sue's clients, at least."
"If you think any of the girls can swing some time off to come to L.A., tell 'em I'll spring for their travel expenses, okay?"
"Ok. I'll call you back or email you in a little bit. Oh, and Anne?"
"This is so typically you. I love ya, Redneck. Thanks."
"Go to hell, you old fart." The two cackled again as Anne lit up her second Marlboro. "Love you too, Jac. Bye."
Cigarette dangling from the corner of her mouth, Anne rose from her bed, pulled on some fleece pants that nicely accented her 'You say Psycho like it's a Bad Thing' T-shirt, walked out of her room and down the hall to her brothers' doors.
Jim and Terry-
Anne's older brothers. Technically half-brothers. Their father died when they were young, and their mom's remarriage resulted in Anne, but even though they shared just one biological parent, the bond between the three siblings couldn't have been stronger if they were triplets.
Their lives had been different, and still were to some degree. Anne's father and mother divorced when Anne was only six, and Anne ended up being raised mostly by her father while her brothers went with Mom. While Anne grew up under the main influence of her dad, a good-hearted but strict, no-nonsense man, Jim and Terry experienced the more spiritual side of life with their mother, a former flower child with an open mind and a lust for all things creative.
Anne loved her father, but had to admit some of her most favorite memories were from days spent with Mom, at museums, at folk music festivals, at barbecues where Mom and her free-spirited friends sat around drinking homemade wine and pondering the meaning of life while eating brownies that, for some reason, Anne wasn't allowed to touch. She never mentioned times like this to her father when she was younger, somehow knowing that if she did, he'd have the proverbial cow and make sure there wouldn't be any more barbecues in Anne's future.
Jim and Terry-
- five and seven years older than Anne, yet somehow it was Anne who was their protector. When Mom died ten years ago, it was Anne who took her brothers in. Both were adults, working and holding their own, but Jim and Terry had noone left...noone but Anne. She'd bought a large old victorian house in the M-street area of Dallas, a fixer-upper, and coaxed the two into moving in with her just long enough to help her get the place in shape. Both brothers had a knack for building, Jim especially, so Anne didn't have to coax too much to get them to accept the challenge. And when the job was done, Anne had been able to convince both to stay and live in the masterpiece they'd helped to create.
In the long run, Anne loved having them there, and they loved being a family. She quickly earned the nickname 'Mini-Mom', and didn't mind it much. Her dad had done his job well, and though Anne inherited her mother's creative, carefree side, she also had just enough of her father in her to lay down the law when needed and keep her brothers on the right track...
Well, almost on the right track.
As she walked down the hall to bang on Jim's door first, the door with the glow-in-the-dark Jimi Hendrix doodle art poster on it, the door that couldn't quite keep the overpowering smell of marijuana from sneaking past its seal, Anne told herself that laying down the law when it came to both her brothers' love for 'the bud' was one battle she'd never win.
"Jim! Wake up! Need to talk to you, Bro! Bring your bong if it'll get you out here faster!"
A muffled grunt and incoherent word Anne guessed was English came from the other side of the door, followed by the strained creak of mattress springs. Jim was up. Awake...maybe a different matter, but up...yes. Good enough.
The next door on her route showcased a 'Hazardous Waste' sign nailed to its millwork, and as used to seeing it on Terry's door as she was, Anne could never look at the sign and fail to wonder where in hell Terry'd snatched it from. As she knocked on it, Anne decided it was better to let the mystery of the sign's origin remain just that.
"Terry! Get out here a minute! If Amanda's in there with you, tell her hi for me."
No answer from Terry, but his girlfriend's voice assured her Terry would be out in a second.
"Mornin', Anne! I'll get him up and out there for you. Is everything okay?"
"Everything's fine, Amanda. I just need to talk to the guys a sec."
Ten minutes later, two groggy and disheveled men sat in the living room, one trying to rub the sleep off his face with his hand while the other was starting to bitch about a communist plot being behind the fact that he couldn't find a lighter anywhere. Jim looked like a little boy on Christmas morning when Anne fished a Zippo from her pocket and handed it to him.
"Guys, I have to go to L.A. for awhile, not sure how long. A friend's sick, and I have to go and help her out until she can get back on her feet. I realize the thought of not having me around here to nag you's gotta be one hell of a depressing thought, but I need you to watch over the cats and the dog, keep the place tidy, and make sure the bills on my desk get paid while I'm gone. Play nice with the yuppies next door... and NO parties; think you can handle it?"
Terry'd managed to rub most of the sleep from his eyes, and sat back, looking surprisingly less pleased than Anne had expected.
"Well, hell! Man, that means I have to cook."
"Yes, Terry, I'm afraid so. God forbid you have to boil all that water for the ramen soup I know you're gonna eat plenty of while I'm gone. Try to look at it this way, at least you can watch all the Jeopardy you want without me bitching at you."
Both brother's eyes perked at the thought. There was nothing funnier to Anne than coming home to find her brothers planted in front of the tube watching Alex Trebec. She didn't know which was funnier, two guys with Metallica and Led Zeppelin T-shirts on, watching intently through bloodshot eyes as Mr. Trebec fired off questions on geography and dead poets, or the fact that the two eternally stoned rockers always seemed to get damned near every question right. And just try to get their attention during Final Jeopardy. Impossible.
Jim tried to talk as he fought to hold the smoke in, sounding like an old mob boss lying on his death bed and muttering his last words with a creak.
"Far out." A burst of coughing and expelled smoke followed the reply as he raised a thumb. "We got you covered, Sis. No problem."
Anne watched her brother's coughing fit, wondering how something that looked so painful could put the kind of smile she was now seeing on her brother's face.
"Whatever gene you two inherited that makes you and weed so compatible, I didn't get. Last time I tried the stuff, I felt like I was walking on a metal floor with magnetic shoes on. And the time before that, I freaked out, thinking ninjas were outside the window. Go figure."
Her brothers looked at her with a simultaneous expression of sympathy. Funny; Anne thought she was the lucky one.
"Ok. Gotta make some plans and pack. I'll leave you two a list so you don't forget what I've told you. And Jim, don't think for a second that I'm not gonna check the puter when I get back to make sure you haven't been joining any of those porn sites. If I get back and find any urls in my cookie cabinet with the letter x or mention of chicks named Sugar Lynn in them, you're toast.
Two hours later, Anne's bags were packed, her list for Jim and Terry was made, and she was sitting back, killing time before calling a cab, when the phone rang, Jac on the other end.
"What ya got for me, Jac?"
"I've been a busy broad, Anne. Busy, busy, busy, but I've got some good news."
"Ok, Sue's mom dictated the client list for me, and there are more small jobs than I originally thought. But, Julie's already on her way to L.A. as we speak. She's gonna tackle the small jobs for a couple of weeks, then Tami's managed to fanagle a way to get there two weeks from now and take over. Gwenn's prepped and ready to go and take over after that, if need be, so all you have to concentrate on is Sue's big client."
Anne took a deep breath of relief at the news. She didn't think she'd be a bad housekeeper, but the thought of tackling so many jobs by herself had her not only holding more respect for Sue, but also shaking a little at her confidence over this sneaky plan.
"Whew! That really is good news. Damn, Jac, you're a hell of an organizer."
"Thanks, Red, but you haven't even heard the best news yet. Guess who your big job is?"
Jac intentionally evoked a dramatic pause in the conversation, and Anne could practically feel her through the phone, fighting back the urge to laugh wildly. Finally...
"Well, let's just say he's a movie star, and a delectable little piece of meat at that. Single too, from what I hear."
Anne had to intentionally force a firmer grip on the phone to keep it from dropping to the floor.
"No way! Who?"
Another pause from the psychologically cruel Jackie.
"Never heard of him."
It was obvious from Jac's tone that frustration was setting in.
"Yes, you have, Red! I know you have. Maybe you don't recognize the name, but if you saw him, you'd know him. I guarantee you, you've seen him!"
"Well, what's he been in? Where would I have seen him?"
"He's been in a few things...lemme think...see, he's not what I'd call a superstar, but he's definitely a celebrity." Anne waited patiently for Jac to come up with something, anything that would help her put a face to the name. Not knowing was driving her nuts.
"What do you mean by 'celebrity'? We talkin' A-crowd celebrity or 'Hollywood Squares' celebrity? There's a huge difference, you know."
Jac completely ignored Anne's question, finally remembering.
"OH! Okay...did you see that spy movie a couple of years ago? You know, that big blockbuster hit with Bruce Willis and that Viggo guy in it? What's his name? Viggo..Mor..."
"Mortenson. Yeah, I saw it."
"Remember the handsome looking Israeli guy who was part of their crack unit? You know, the one who got shot in the end saving Willis' life?"
"Yeah...YEAH! I do! HIM? Hot damn!" Anne's voice and eyes lit up even more. "HEY! He's on some network tv show too, isn't he?"
"Oh my God, yes! I totally forgot about that show! Yeah! That prime time soap thingy about that group of hot young Wall Street guys. Kinda a spin off of that 'Boiler Room' movie, right? Tried to watch it a couple of times, but it's not that good, if you ask me."
"Me, too. I've seen it once or twice, and noticed him in it, but they didn't have him on screen much." Anne's train of thought shifted, now with the mystery of who Benjamin Rappaport was solved. "So, I'm going to be Ben Rappaport's maid, huh? Honestly, Jac, I don't know if that's a good or bad thing."
"Anne, how could that be anything but good? That's gotta be a dream job to a hell of alot of women out there. Think about it."
"That's the problem. I am thinking about it. I'm going to be cleaning up after some Hollywood hunk who probably sits around getting manicures and drinking Evian water with a twist while having conference calls with his fellow famous buddies. He'll probably treat me like shit, have wild parties for me to clean up after, and'll probably want his bed sheets pressed a certain way. You know, the more I think about this, Jac, the more I think it's gonna suck."
Jac remained quiet on the other end, obviously poring over Anne's thoughts, and just as obviously leaning toward agreeing with her. Anne sucked it up and let out a deep, determined breath.
"Well, it'll be interesting at least. And thank God, it's not forever. Hey, how come Sue's never mentioned one of her clients was someone famous?"
"Already asked that myself. The service made her sign a confidentiality clause. She couldn't tell anyone...if she did and it got out, she'd lose her job."
"Makes sense, I suppose. Ok, Jac, gotta let you go so I can call a cab. I should get there in time to check in with Sue's mom and get all the info I need. I'm taking my laptop, so just email me what you find out, and I'll e you back when I get settled in L.A."
"Okay, Red. You're right. This is definitely going to be interesting."
"Yup. But for who?"