Chapter 2—Many Partings
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The U-Haul yawned empty except for two boxes of art supplies and an asthmatic vacuum. Carrie slogged up the metal ramp, her back aching. She could smell the lilacs in Joe’s backyard. Nothing put an end to winter like that purple perfume. But it didn’t lift her up like it had in the past. Nothing could lift her today.
“We ordered pizzas,” Cathy, Carrie’s sister, followed her to the back of the truck and wrangled the vacuum. “Stan wants to drill new holes for your headboard, but I think you should just get a new bed. That one’s falling apart.”
A slash of grease marred Cathy’s aqua capris. She would throw the pants away once she discovered the stain. Knowing that made Carrie’s throat close up with tears.
“I’m scared, Cath,” she said.
Cathy finally got the hose under control. “You’ll be fine. This is the perfect solution.”
Carrie took a shaky breath. “I know…”
“You don’t qualify for disability now,” Cathy stated. “So you had to move out of subsidized housing. But you’ll have to reapply when your money runs out.”
“Are we doing this again, Spaz Girl?” Joe walked up behind them. His dark eyes blinked doll-like behind thick glasses.
Carrie laughed a little. Joe was her oldest friend in the world—a bond forged in the saxophone section of their junior high band. They dubbed themselves The Spaz Club and stuck together through each other’s crises—debt and promiscuity, cross-country moves, a HIV scare, Carrie’s divorce, job hopscotch, the death of Joe’s partner, mental hospitals, and a million late-night calls. Many times bent, but never broken, their friendship was precious to Carrie, and that’s what worried her.
“Shame on you for publishing a book and making some money.” Joe hefted the last box. “Let’s give it all back. That’ll show the government!”
“If I could only write another book…”
“You will,” Cathy said, shuffling down the ramp.
“But, it might take a few years,” Joe added. “That’s why you’re moving into my basement.”
They started across Joe’s back yard single-file. “I’m afraid you’ll end up hating me,” she said to Joe’s back. “You’ll kick me out, and then I’ll have to live in my car.”
“I know,” he said over his shoulder. “And I’m afraid I’ll find you at Quik Trip in your nightgown. But, neither of those will probably happen.”
Carrie took an easier breath. “Probably not.”
They sidled through the sliding glass door into a long room jumbled with Carrie’s stuff—a couple of old bookcases, a beat-up dining set, her big cushy chair and stacks of boxes. Pam and Maggie lay sprawled across the floor. A drill whined in the back room
Sooner or later, people got fed up with Carrie’s erratic moods and neediness. Friends, family, lovers, her ex-husband—sooner or later they left for parts less crazy. Or she bolted from the daily upkeep a relationship demanded. Sometimes Carrie felt like she walked through a battle field with her ruined relationships piled up like corpses. These few were the survivors.
Pam McNally found her at a yoga class years ago. A recovering alcoholic, she recognized someone who was Doing the Work, as she called it. They started the practice of Shallow Dates, going to the most inane fluff at the movies to give their mutually overworked brains a rest. But afterward, they dissected the movie for deeper meaning, which defeated the whole idea of shallow, but was the best part. Pam laughed loud, swore creatively, and never backed down from a fight.
Maggie Duchane was a rediscovered friend, someone she and Joe knew in high school, then lost track of as Carrie’s life careened off the main highway. One day Maggie came into Carrie’s favorite coffee shop as she sat working on her book. They remembered doing props together for the school’s production of The Glass Menagerie, they remembered the torture of their creative writing class, they remembered liking each other a lot. Carrie’s changeability seemed to roll off Maggie’s back with no water stain. She never judged, never complained, never worried or fussed. She just stayed.
“I can’t move,” Maggie groaned. “Call a chiropractor.”
“We’re too old for this shit.” Pam opened one bleary eye. “Next time you move, we’re hiring beefy college boys.”
“Yes, please,” Joe called out.
“Next time I move it will be to a nursing home.” Carrie off-loaded her box and collapsed between her friends. “At least each time I have less stuff.”
“Did you do one of your purges?” Maggie asked.
Carrie draped an arm across her face. She felt a nap coming on—partly from a tired body, partly from the depression. “I haven’t done one of those since I got rid of all my art supplies that one time.”
Pam laughed. “Jeez, you gave away every scrap of paper. All your inks. I don’t think you kept even one paintbrush.” She nudged Carrie. “You are better. You don’t do scary shit like that anymore.”
“Just flirt with movie stars on Ellen,” Joe said from somewhere across the room.
“I still don’t see the appeal,” Cathy’s voice came from the stairs. “He’s too weasel-faced.”
“Too tall,” Maggie added.
“Too English!” came a shout from the bedroom.
“You poops can‘t spoil that day for me. I met Corvus Blackwood, while manic, and kept my hands to myself. It may be my proudest moment.”
The doorbell rang.
“Pizza!” everyone yelled.
“Hey!” another shout from the bedroom. “Phone’s ringing in here!”
Carrie ignored her brother-in-law. She heard Cathy and Joe make their way up the stairs and thought she should go help. But exhaustion overruled her guilt. She nestled more comfortably between Pam and Maggie.
“Did I tell you he sent me the script?”
“How was it?” Maggie asked.
“Good… mostly. I ended up writing ten pages of notes.”
Pam laughed. “Endearing yourself to yet another industry. Smooth.”
“I’ll have you know,” Carrie sniffed in her best British accent. “I was solicited for my opinion. Mind you demonstrate the proper respect, knave.”
“Pardon my fucking ass, m’lady,” Pam laughed.
“Hey!” Stan called again. “Phone’s ringing. This is like the fifth time.”
“Who’s calling?” Carrie grumped, rolling onto her knees. “Everybody’s here.”
Stan tossed the phone at her from the bedroom. “That’s the most annoying ringtone I’ve ever heard. Shut it up, would you?”
Carrie ground her teeth. She never cared much for Stan—too many rules—but played nice for Cathy’s sake. That, and he could fix anything.
I’m such a whore, she thought, not for the first time.
The phone went silent as Carrie checked her call history—five from a number she didn’t recognize. She pulled up the first of five voice messages.
“Carrie? Hello. This is Robert. Bierce. Please return my call as soon as possible. Right. Cheers.”
Carrie’s stomach lurched. The next message played.
“Hello, Carrie? Sorry to be a bother. I’m sitting with Daniel Mann, and we’d like to speak to you as soon as possible. Please call me.”
“It’s him,” she said, holding her phone out to her friends.
Pam and Maggie sat up. Joe and Cathy paused on the stairs, balancing pizza boxes and six-packs of pop.
“Carrie?” the next message played. “Robert again. Giles MacFadyen has joined us now…”
“Uhhhh,” Carrie stopped the messages. Giles MacFayden wrote the script for Moments, the one she tore to shreds.
“What does he want?” Pam asked.
“He wants me to call him.”
“Do it!” Maggie cried, clapping her hands. “Only come over here so we can hear.”
Carrie hit redial and held her breath. Robert answered immediately.
“I’m sorry… I just picked up my messages. I’ve been moving all day.”
“Long story.” She looked around at all the waiting faces. “Are you really with Daniel Mann and the scriptwriter?”
“Yes, we’ve been going over your notes…”
Carrie sucked air between her teeth, bracing herself. “Are they mad?”
Robert stopped. Someone was talking in the background. Other noises filtered through—the clink of silverware, snatches of music. She heard rustling, thumps, scratching as the sound cut in and out.
“Robert? Are you still there?”
“Miss Severide?” Another voice—rough, throaty, like someone who had smoked for decades. “This is Daniel Mann.”
“Your notes… We’re quite excited about them.”
“Excited. In a good way?”
“Well, Giles was a bit miffed at first, but recognizes expertise when he reads it. As do I. Miss Severide, we want you to come over and help us.”
“You want me to come to London?”
Joe pumped his fist in the air while Maggie and Pam did lap dances on the floor. Cathy turned away from her and set the pizzas carefully on the floor.
“Yes, my dear. Can we count on you?”
She turned away from her screaming posse. “I… I don’t know if I can afford a trip to London.”
“Oh, my dear woman,” Mann laughed. “I’m hiring you as our technical consultant. Robert wants you to coach him, and I want you to help Giles rewrite the script.”
“Uh, what does Giles think about that?”
Another series of scratching and fumbling, then another voice. “Miss Severide? Giles MacFayden. Don’t let Daniel mess you about. Much as I hate to admit it, I need you.”
More fumbling and noise. “Right, then,” Mann said. “My assistant will send you the contract straight away. She’ll take care of the arrangements. Can you do it? Can you come?”
Carrie pulled the phone away from her ear and blinked at Joe. “Do you mind taking care of Hamish for me? I think I’m going out of town.”
Joe laughed and hugged her.
The bones of dead pizzas littered the floor. Carrie blew her nose on a napkin and breathed out the last of her crying jag.
“I still don’t like the idea of you going to England by yourself,” Cathy said. She sat across from Carrie on the floor, arms and legs crossed, the picture of defiance.
“I think she’ll be fine once she gets there.” Joe studied the contract Mann’s assistant had sent through his email. As a CPA, Joe was the closest thing to a lawyer Carrie had. “I mean, Jesus, she gets a driver.”
“London,” Maggie sighed. “The Old Vic, The RST, all those yummy accents…”
“And if you blow over there…” Pam laid a hand on Carrie’s back. “… you’ve got backup.”
“Oh, I don’t think there’s any doubt that I’ll blow,” Carrie sniffed. “A foreign country, mobs of strangers, an actual job…”
“Don’t do it,” Cathy told her. “You’ve worked too hard to get where you are now. This could undo everything. You could end up in a hospital over there. It’s too dangerous.”
“I won’t end up in a hospital,” Carrie sighed.
Sometimes her sister made her so tired. Twice in her life she spent time in a psych ward. But that was before she understood the quality of her life was up to her, not drugs, not doctors, not some comic book hero. It took a long time to figure out how to do that, how to be someone with a mental illness but not necessarily a crazy person. She had worked hard, but her sister still expected the worst.
Carrie checked herself. She’s not wrong. It could happen. I need to see that, too.
“I’ll never get a chance like this again,” she said. “I want to go. I have to go.”
“Well, it’s not like your mental status is a secret. Robert’s read your book.” Pam grinned. “Christ, Severide. Robert Fucking Bierce! Of course you have to go.”
“Just do what you always do if it gets bad,” Maggie said. “Tell them what you need.”
“Yeah, this wouldn’t be the time to get shy,” Joe added. “And besides, they’re going to pay you a nice wad of cash.” He looked up from the contract and smiled. “No living in your car.”
Carrie burst into tears again. Cathy gave Stan an “I told you so” eyeball. Stan scowled and guzzled the last of his Mountain Dew.
“Call your therapist,” Maggie suggested. “See what she says.”
“I know what she’ll say.” Carrie wiped her face on the sleeve of her tee-shirt. “She’ll tell me to get that little laptop I can’t afford and get on the plane.”
“And maybe update your wardrobe.” Joe eyed her. “This Goodwill chic will not play in London.” He circled his hand in the air. “I can see a shopping excursion in your near future.”
Carrie smiled thinly. She looked at Cathy. “I’ll be okay.”
But the look on her sister’s face mirrored the queasy feeling in her gut.
Carrie smiled. With her new Bluetooth ear piece, she could almost hear the spittle flying out of Giles’ mouth all the way from London.
“So, you like what I did with the therapist scene.” She waved at Joe, coming down to check his laundry.
“Like it?” he wailed. “I’m slashing my sodding wrists with it, you job-stealing psychopath!”
“Manic Depressive, dear,” Carrie said calmly. “Psychopaths write cookbooks.”
“I can’t stand this any more,” Giles whined. “I need to rage at you in person. When are you coming?”
“My passport should get here this week. I’m to call Fiona as soon as it does, and she’ll book me a flight.”
“Christ! We’ve got the whole reunion scene to rework… “
“I started that.” Carrie pushed Hamish off her copy of the script pages. “Check your email.”
“Hang on.” Silence. “Got it. Ooo.”
“Christ,” Giles whispered. “Oh… “
More silence. Carrie braced herself.
“Wha—FUCK! Oh, that’s brilliant! The daughter! I did not see that! Perfect! It sets up the whole last act.”
“I wasn’t sure about Jenna’s voice. Does that work?”
“Oh, I’ll tweak it a bit. Teenagers don’t say ‘cool’ anymore, luv. Right. So. I’ll clean this up and send back the new pages.”
“Okay.” Carrie watched Hamish slink toward the laundry room. “I think Robert’s calling later, so I’ll work around that.”
“And how is our leading man? Sufficiently batty?”
“He wants to get it right. But I keep telling him it’s not that clean.”
“What I love most about the character of Frank is that he’s so messy. The complexity, the contradictions—they’re what make him so real.”
“Well, I told you about my brother…”
“You’ve experienced the chaos first-hand. Robert hasn’t. He won’t say it, but I think the mess intimidates him a little.”
“Whinger,” Giles said quietly.
“At least he doesn’t have a potty mouth like some people.”
“Oh, right. Mr. Bierce is a fucking gentleman. Saint Robert, he’s called here.”
Carrie laughed out loud. “He is very polite.”
“But, you’re breaking him of that, yes? Because our Frank isn’t a nice guy.”
“Frank’s lost,” Carrie said. “There’s a difference.”
“And that, my girl, is why St. Robert is fucking lucky to have you in his corner.”
“Giles. How embarrassed will you be when I kiss you at the airport?”
“I’m planning on it, luv. With tongues.”
Carrie disconnected her Bluetooth with a touch and let out a satisfied sigh. Stretching in her chair, she heard Joe chatting with Hamish and the rush of water filling the washer. Morning light from the patio doors turned the basement room golden.
This moment, she thought, smiling. This is good.
Swiveling in her chair, she looked up at the big bulletin board on the wall Her collection of pictures and magazine articles about The Raven series layered the board like an archeological dig. In the center, on top of the other artifacts, a full-page portrait of Corvus Blackwood glowered at her.
She could see Robert now under the heavy make-up, his blue eyes snapping. She reached up and stroked a finger down the black beard as her mind meandered toward a quiet garden. The path to that place was so well worn, so subtle, she went without knowing.
Her finger trailed down to the caption: British actor, 38-year-old Robert Bierce…
A whisper from the garden calculated:
I’m eleven years older.
When I graduated from high school, he was seven…
Suddenly, she recognized the whisper—an old, familiar, siren song.
“Crap!” She yanked her hand away from the picture.
“What?” Joe came out of the laundry room with a basket of clothes. He looked at Carrie, then the bulletin board.
“Brain sex,” he smiled, sitting in her big chair. “Almost my favorite kind.”
“No.” Carrie dropped the Bluetooth onto the desk. She felt shaky, flushed. “He’s real now. I can’t.”
Joe snapped a tee-shirt and folded it. “What do you mean?”
“You know what I mean.”
“Is that still a problem?” He frowned in thought and shook out another tee-shirt. “When was the last time you had sex with an actual man?”
“Doesn’t matter.” Carrie found herself at the patio door. The air drifting through the screen cooled her face.
“No, really.” Joe rolled his clean socks. “How long has it been?”
She closed her eyes, counting as she breathed in and out. Morning doves cooed over the garage.
“Anybody since Kevin?” Joe pressed. “What about that guy in your meditation group? Joachim? Or that cute guy at the Y?”
“No,” she said quietly. “Nobody since Kevin.”
“You haven’t had sex since your divorce.” Joe’s hands dropped to his lap. “That was what? Seven years ago?”
“Ten years. You haven’t had sex in ten years. And you still think you’re hyper-sexual? I don’t think so, Carrie.”
“It’s more about what happens in my head. I get obsessed. I get… lost.”
“Honey, thousands of people are obsessed with Robert Bierce. It’s normal. I mean, my god, he’s got that long, lean dangerous thing happening, and that voice. Can’t you just enjoy it?”
She turned to look at Joe—confident, and earnest, and so well-meaning. After all these years, he still didn’t understand. How could she ever explain it to him? The way her brain seized a man and choked on him? The way sex devoured her? She tried to write about it in her book, tried to talk about it at the speaking engagements, but most people blinked at her the way Joe blinked at her now.
She sat on the big arm of his chair and tried to smile. “I know Robert now. And I’m about to spend a lot of time with him. So, I have to be realistic. To be anything else will make me sick. I don’t want to be crazy over there, Joe.”
“But, sweetheart…” Joe dug into his basket and pulled out a pair of boxers. “…you are crazy.”
His magnified eyes found hers—not smiling now, not joking. “All I’m saying is don’t be so scared. You’re bound to lose it over there. You’ll lose it over him. It’ll happen. And it will be okay.”
She reached into the basket for a tee-shirt and uncovered Hamish. Burrowed deep into the warm whites, he blinked up at her and yawned. When she straightened up, Carrie had her face carefully arranged. She said what she needed to as she folded the shirt.
“Sure. It’ll be fine.”
“Don’t forget to find some Airborne once you get past security. That’s supposed to boost the immune system.”
“Will you get a meal?”
“Do airlines even do that anymore?”
“What’s the forecast for London? Rain?”
“Got your granny socks on? The first thing England sees should not be your swollen ankles.”
“Did you bring an umbrella?”
Carrie turned too fast and cracked her hip against the open van door. She could feel herself speeding up and resisted the urge to yank her suitcase out of the back and bolt for the terminal. Instead, she took a deep breath and shut out the pushing and pulling. The air tasted like metal and her stomach burned. Her brain scrabbled like a gerbil in its wheel.
Something tugged her arm. She opened her eyes to see Cathy tucking more money into a side pocket of her purse.
“You can always come home,” her sister said.
Behind Cathy, Pam rolled her eyes and started to speak, but Maggie elbowed her into silence. Stan dropped her suitcase to the sidewalk.
“Here’s the Famous Writer and Cinematic Consultant ready to wheel her ugly Samsonite carry-on into the airport.” Joe pointed his phone at her, continuing the ‘documentary’ that had started at breakfast. “Tell us, Ms. Severide, any last words for your adoring fans?”
Carrie swallowed the lump in her throat and tried to think of something clever to say. All she could do was hug them each in turn and take the last of their instructions.
“Get some sleep on the plane.”
“Call when you get there—no matter what time it is.”
“Take lost of pictures.”
“For godsakes, have fun.”
“You’ll be great.”
“Wish me luck,” she finally said. “And don’t wait around. You can’t get past security anyway. Get out of here.”
“And here’s the Famous Writer’s first of many emotional blats.” Joe looked up from his phone. “That would make an awesome montage. Be sure to have somebody record those.”
“Shut up,” she said, grabbing him. “Pay attention to Hamish.”
“He’s already sleeping with me,” Joe smiled. “He won’t even notice you’re gone.”
“Bastard.” She hugged him.
“Spaz Girl.” Joe squeezed her, then pushed her back. “Okay, we need a shot of you rolling away and waving.”
“Right.” Carrie pulled out the suitcase handle and started for the automatic doors. “See ya.”
And then the doors shut behind her, and she trolleyed her bag across the polished terminal floor. She could feel them watching, pushing her with their love and terror. Carrie took a deep breath and headed for the check-in line.
To read Chapter 3—A Warm Welcome, click here.