Saturday, January 22, 2011
Studio Time: Four
South Beach Metro East - Hitman Studio: 1 PM
It was a call she had been expecting, in a way, a dreary way. Syd dumped her purse on hood of the car, pulled out her iPhone, saw it was Charlie and decided there was no point in answering it. She was doing her thing and he was doing his thing; they were doing things that never intersected and never would. He probably didn't expect her to answer. He would be with May and wouldn't expect her to initiate a conversation or bother him with one. Charlie checking in.
A man and a woman were arguing on the other side of the parking lot. He was arguing. She was smoking. Syd slipped the cell back into her purse, watched them and wondered if it was technically possible to argue if only one party was interested in arguing. It wasn't an argument. It was a lecture. The woman should stop smoking. The woman shouldn't drop the butts on the ground and step on them. The woman should place the butts in the ashtray provided for that purpose. Rob never lectured. Rob had not called in three days.
Sydney grabbed the heavy purse, made yet another promise to herself that she would finally clean it out, toss most of what she had in there, and started down the sidewalk toward the front door. Parking was tight in this part of the city, all street parking taken and metered. If Cooper didn't have a parking lot, she would have hiked three or four long city blocks to get time with a man who made no secret about not wanting to meet with her. So here she was; maybe this time she would discover an angle she hadn't used before.
"I have a one o'clock with Cooper Stanfield." Sydney could see a recording session underway, a woman she didn't recognize gripping the mic with both hands as she sang. A young man lounging in a swivel chair pulled up to the mixing board cast a quick look in her direction before he leaned forward and stopped the session with an irritable gesture.
"Mrs. Pera?" The girl tabbed through a notebook and smiled at her. "He's expecting you. It's up the stairs and to your left; I'll let him know you're on your way up."
The staircase, squeezed into the back of the building, took a hard left twist before opening onto the second floor. She'd been in Cooper's studio a few times, but she'd never made the flight up to his private office. A little girl sat in the middle of an oriental rug surrounded by dolls and toys, looking up at her famous father who was telling her she hadn't eaten all her lunch and couldn't have a bag of cookies.
"Hi Syd." He stepped over the toys, smiling, briefly took her hand before gesturing toward the couch. "Have a seat; watch your step getting over there."
The child peeked up from under a fringe of light brown hair, big eyed, then quickly, shyly, returned her attention to the doll. Cooper smiled again. "Syd, this is my daughter Harmony. Hugs, say hello to Mrs. Pera."
Another little glance up as she obeyed and said in a soft voice, "Hello."
"Harmony, that's a pretty name." Syd hesitated, trying to remember something about children, about being a little girl. She had owned a doll, dressed it up and brushed its hair and named it something she could no longer remember. "What's your doll's name?"
This time the little girl returned the smile. "Autumn cuz that's my best friend's name and she has a doll too and it's got my name."
Sydney glanced at Cooper. His whole attention was focused on his daughter, and he seemed to tear it away with an effort. Easing down across from her, he crossed one booted foot over the other, relaxing, smiling at her. "What can I do for you, Syd?"
She sat down and crossed her legs and summoned the smile and the one new tool she had. "Rayne and Wyatt have agreed to participate in this year's charity auction. I thought you'd like to join them; it would make a huge impact, having the three of you there."
Cooper stared at her for a couple of seconds, then shook his head and laughed. "Sorry, no. We've been through this before; I'll be happy to contribute a donation but I don't sell my personal time, and definitely not for some fictional date."
Sydney expected the refusal; it had become an annual tradition: ask Cooper and gracefully accept his declination. This year though, this year the man was separated from his wife. This year he'd have to come up with a different excuse. She smiled and leaned toward him and pushed a little harder than she usually did. "Everyone realizes it isn't a real date, Cooper. I have commitments from almost everybody this year, and it would be such a draw if you'd reconsider and help us out."
His expression changed, hardened, and he shifted on the sofa and looked back down at his daughter before drawing a long breath. "I know who has agreed and who hasn't. I said I don't want to do it."
"Is it a party?"
Both of them stopped and looked at the child in the middle of the room. She had gotten to her feet, hands clasped behind her, watching them.
Cooper shot a cold glance at Sydney before he got up and gently touched his daughter's hair. "Sweetie, we can have a party for you and your friends another time; this is not the kind of party you'd like."
She looked disappointed. "Jay said the lady came to their house and told them they could come to the party. He said you wouldn't let me go."
Jay? Syd tried to recall 'Jay'...perhaps Heydon's son, the youngest, the child he had with that bitch Camilla. A little boy had been running around showing off when she'd stopped by to talk to Heydon. She hesitated, uncertain how to handle this, whether to push it in the face of Cooper's obvious displeasure or to back off and keep quiet. Putting on her best smile, she stepped right in. "We have a children's room this year, with appropriate entertainment: a magician and three of the ballerinas from the South Beach Ballet Company."
The little girl gasped. "There's ballerinas? Daddy, could I please go see the ballerinas? Please?"
Swallowing a laugh, freezing the polite smile, Sydney silently swore she would buy the girl the biggest doll she could find; she would take her to see Swan Lake; she would give her a truck full of cookies. Cooper was trapped, and he knew it, and the look he gave her, well it said it all.
Auburn - #9 Little Mountain Pass: 4 PM
Cooper worked through the chords again, stopping to make notes on the staff paper spread out on the coffee table, conferring with Heydon. Late afternoon sun sprawled across the floor through the open windows, and he could hear his daughter's voice outside those windows. If more than a couple of minutes passed without him hearing her voice, he set down the guitar and went out onto the deck to check on her.
The house sat back on a mountain ridge and straddled a fast running stream. Hugs was a strong swimmer, but she was still a small child and he didn't intend to take any chances, no chances of any kind, not with this little girl.
He turned his attention to Heydon who had watched him make that circuit over and over again; if he considered it excessive, he kept it to himself. Heydon's son was down there somewhere too, probably getting into something the kid would break. "It's getting late; I need to get Jay up here and take off. You want me to drop off Hugs on our way back? It's a two hour round trip for you and it's snowing."
It was a drive Cooper looked forward to making, including a stop in Bay View for Hugs' favorite strawberry milkshake and fries. "Thanks, but I don't get much time with her, I'd rather take her back myself. I took her to the studio today but I had to tweak that last mix and work on a few arrangements. And that damned woman Sydney Pera took about an hour of my time."
Heydon stood up, stretched, and grinned. "I still can't believe you let her talk you into her buy-a-date game. You're going to regret that."
"I already regret it, but she dangled ballerinas in front of Hugs and I couldn't say no." He glanced outside once more, than winked at Heydon. "What do you say, you want to make a deal? You bid on me and I forget all about that Kramer Jay demolished."
"I love you man but not that much." Laughing along with him, Heydon headed toward the back of the house. "I'm going to hit the head before we go."
After Heydon had collected Jay and left Cooper sat back in the fading light and listened to Hugs who was still outside playing and singing softly, her voice drifting in, carried by the hush of falling snow and rustling branches. He didn't recognize the song, but it sounded like something Beth would have taught her, simple and old and a little melancholy. Cooper's chest tightened, love and anguish simultaneously gripping him in a steel vice.
Silently, he cursed and stared down at the staff paper scattered across the table in front of him. His face set with a determined expression, he began to write, words flowed from his heart like poetry, lyrics to a love song that was not meant for anyone but his wife.
South Beach - #10 Coast Road: 6 PM
Cooper got out of the car as Hugs jumped over the curb, splashing in puddled rain, singing and swinging her bunny around in the front yard. Beth was waiting. She wore a dress he hadn't seen before, her bare arms folded against the chill, her mouth tight, her face quiet and closed and annoyed. He'd spent most of the long drive planning how to deal with this, how to explain, how to fix this damned problem and come home where he wanted so desperately to be, but now...now she seemed further away from him than ever.
“The roads were bad or we would have been here sooner. Look Beth I...”
She brushed him off, interrupting, “You could have called to let me know; I have plans and now I’m running late.” Glancing at her daughter she quickly added, “Hugs, move away from the fountain; stop running around, the grass is wet and slippery.”
“You have plans?" He took a step closer, ignoring the distraction, trying to force her attention back, trying to control the surge of anger. "With who, Alex again? I don’t like the idea of him being around the kids, around Hugs.”
“Don’t tell me who I can be friends with, Cooper.” She sounded tired, the retort automatic and listless. It was an oddly unenthusiastic defense, and she gazed up at him, a long, silent query.
“You know what kind of man he is --” It wasn't what she expected him to say. Cooper saw the surprise and the disappointment and the brief muzzle flash of anger, collected himself, uncertain where he'd gone wrong, regrouping to try something else when he heard the splash.
They both turned quickly to see Hugs lying in the fountain, waist deep in water, arms and legs askew and clutching her bunny to her chest. Brushing damp hair from her face she looked at them, mouth drawn in a pout as her lower lip quivered. ““Sorry...I had to rescue Bunny. He fell in too...”
Beth threw a look at Cooper as he pulled their child from the fountain. “Run upstairs, sugar, and get out of those wet clothes and into the bath. I’ll be up in a minute.”
She was going to walk away. He thought of the lyrics he'd entrusted to Hugs, a gift he never intended to stand on its own, he couldn't let this happen, let her go to fucking Alex and she had wanted something from him, she'd been waiting for it, he'd seen it, a word, a gesture, something. His throat tightening again, Cooper called out, “Baby...”
Beth turned away and sighed. “I'm sure you have someone waiting for you, Coop. Just go...please.”
“...and Prince Bunny rescued Princess Harmony from the moat and killed the dragon and they lived happily ever after. The end.”
Hugs exhaled dreamily as she closed her storybook and set Bunny on the bed. “Bunny did I tell you I am going to wear a party dress just like a princess and see ballerinas? Don’t worry, you can come with me, Daddy said so.”
“Oh no! Daddy!” Gasping, she ran to the bathroom and stared at the wet pile of clothes still on the bathroom floor. Reaching down, Hugs rummaged through the pockets until she withdrew her hand and held a soggy, crumpled up note.
Padding back to her room and climbing back up onto the bed, Hugs carefully peeled open the soggy paper. Her heart sank at the sight, the ink was smeared and the only part she could make out was her father’s name. And 'love', it said 'love' right next to his name. She opened her hand and let the paper fall, falling down down onto the floor like a wet sock it fell that fast. She had forgotten; princesses don’t forget important things like promises. "Bunny, I forgot to give Mommy the note from Daddy. Daddy said give it to her tonight, promise to give it to her tonight."
Pulling Bunny tightly to her chest Hugs ran to the window and peered out into the night. The pinpoint of taillights moving away in the black was the only thing she could see, Mommy going somewhere and Daddy not coming back. She was cold. The fairy tales were stupid; they weren't real, she knew they weren't real. She had a real thing to do and she didn't do it. She whispered against Bunny's fur, "And now she's gone, and it's all wet, and I didn't keep my promise."