Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Studio Time: Thirty

Asking questions without answers

Duff lay across his bed, half awake, idly listening to Rayne's conversation with Miranda Taylor while he went over what he assumed would happen this afternoon.  Flight had a meeting with the new manager, a woman Rob would be breaking in, poor creature.  They would review the tenth version of the meticulously planned tour schedule; everyone would agree as long as Alex agreed.  With any luck, it would take less time than the last meeting on the very same topic.
He would not leave Rayne alone and did not like to tell her to wait hours at the studio with little to do to occupy her.  Entertainment was largely limited to bars near the studio.  He had reluctantly settled on window shopping; at least the block of shops and alleys known as Chinatown offered her something safe to do and hopefully something that would hold her interest for a few hours.  

Rayne left the door open onto the balcony, and the early morning breeze filled the sheer curtains and wrapped them around her body as she returned.  Laughing, she struggled to free herself.

"You have predatory curtains."  She settled next to him, her body relaxed, her expression content.  Such a change from yesterday, such a relief.  

"They help capture the women who try to escape me."  

She smiled and lay back across the bed.  "Maybe you should take them down, then.  I want all the other women to escape and go away."

"There are no other women here, cara.  I let them all escape into the wild where they will be happier."

She ran her hand down her bare leg and snickered.  "Yeah, I bet they will.  They'd probably prefer to stay in the cage with you."

Stretching out beside her, Duff stroked her waist and watched her smile.  Rayne played with her hair and asked, "How long do you think you'll be?  Sessions last for hours.  I don't want to hang out there with nothing to do and I'm okay, I can stay here.  You don't have to worry about me."

"It's a meeting, not a session.   Every plan we made last year has been changed but there should not be any problems this time.   I don't expect there will be.  I will not allow you to stay here alone, and you can entertain yourself there for two hours.  If it lasts much longer, I will leave early.   After two hours Shooter will be climbing a wall so it is unlikely to go on even that long."

Rayne teased, "I'll get dressed then, if I can get past those curtains."

As she tried to rise, Duff gently pushed her back down again, the moment quiet, the warmth of her smile and her body equally lovely.  "There were a lot of curtains in your house, cara.  You can change these if you prefer something else." 

"I'm not going to do that.  I don't live here.  Why would I change things in a place where I don't live?"

He caught her gaze, held it, and then let her go.  He didn't have an easy answer.  He hadn't anticipated the question.  He had fallen quickly into the assumption that she would be here, that she would not be leaving.  She ran her fingers down the angle of his jaw and walked through the bedroom into the bath where she'd left her clothes, leaving him alone in a moment when he would rather she stayed.

It might be, in truth, even more temporary than Rayne believed.  Duff forced himself to reluctantly consider it.  She had to know by now, it could not be possible she didn't know who he was.  No, it was possible.  He had to face it, and he had to face it with her before he caused either of them great potential pain.   Maybe tonight, if her day went well.   He told himself it would go well, all of it, the day and the evening ahead, firmly pushing his misgivings aside.

He had no answer yet to her question.  Prior to the last few days he had not considered sharing his home with her but at this point whether she stayed or left was entirely up to her.

"Duff?"  Her voice was muffled behind the bathroom door but she sounded calm and happy.   He believed he had located and brought all the toiletries and cosmetics she wanted - so far she seemed content with what she had.  "Can you help me with something?"

He needed to shave and dress, have coffee, make time to buy gasoline before heading out to the city. Distracted, he strolled barefoot across his bedroom toward the door.

Rayne stood in front of the mirror, watching him in that mirror, her weight on one long leg, her hand on her back holding the unhooked strap of her pink lace bra.  

"Would you help me put this on?"

The drive to the Crossing usually took about an hour depending on traffic and weather, and Rayne sort of expected Duff to push that time but he didn't.  He drove at a leisurely pace and even pulled over once to point out a bluff dropping to a spectacular rocky outcropping.  She'd lived here all her and life and never noticed it. 

They pulled up to the curb a block from Red Studio.  He helped her out of his roadster and glanced around before closing his hand gently over her shoulder. 

"You will call me if anyone approaches you.  If you feel uncomfortable, walk out of here through the back and come upstairs to the studio.  Reception will let me know you're waiting."

"I know where it is.  Nobody's going to bother me, Duff.  It's crowded at night but there won't be anybody there now.  No one will even notice me."  Rayne was going to add a 'yes DAD', but Duff's sense of humor didn't include snark, so she didn't.  

Duff had left the engine running, and he got back behind the wheel and drove off, if going down one block and turning into a parking lot could be called driving off.   He could have parked there and let her walk but he refused  twice and glared at her when she asked a third time.  Rayne lingered at the street for a minute to watch the monorail whip by.  She had wanted to get out and go somewhere, and Duff had agreed it would be good for her, so here she was: purposeless, directionless, watching a monorail.  Go on, she told herself.  Go on and do something.

The shopkeepers changed their inventory all the time.  For that matter, the shopkeepers themselves changed all the time.   One of them was featuring acoustic guitars decorated with flower stickers and calling them  'hippy'.  The same racks of droopy sweaters and big jeans she'd seen the last time now shared space with new flip flops, an added feature that didn't do much to entice her in there.  Antiques and junk, old kids toys, a pretty mirror, some bird cages Hugs' friend Autumn might like for her birthday.

She wondered what was behind that locked door on the third floor of Duff's house.  Her parents kept a locked closet in their bedroom.  Rayne had long known what was in there, and considering they were her parents, she didn't want to look.  It was probably the same thing, although Duff must have a whole lot of sex toys if he needed an entire room, and why not just tell her?

When she paused at the last shop, a giant green plastic frog squatted on a  Chinese table in front of stacks of consignment furniture looking out the door like a sentry or a guardian.  Unnerved, Rayne stared at it.  The frog stared back at her.   Was it a frog?  Or a toad.  It could be a toad.

She felt strange, lightheaded, accidentally in a place she had not intended to visit and not sure how to get out.  She should sit down and drink coffee.

On the other side of the courtyard was a little barista stand under a bamboo roof.  On this side of the courtyard was the Red Lantern.  Rayne hesitated at the door.  She'd spent the last hours before she met Gabe again at that bar.  It was small and dark and safe.  The bartender took care of her and the drinks were good and they were strong.  They probably sold coffee, too.

She went to the barista stand instead.  She bought a cafe latte grande with a mountain of whipped cream and sat in the shade and turned it round and round on the table top while the whipped cream melted.  

Oh Toad...I'm so sorry.  

She didn't want coffee.   She should not have even bought coffee.  It didn't stop her from thinking or even distract her and it was too hot to drink coffee.  Rayne pushed back from the table, heading toward the trash can, shoving the chair so hard it tipped on two legs and almost toppled over.

"Rayne!  Hey Rayne I been looking for you!"  The call came from behind her, down the alley, magnified by midday quiet and the closing walls.  Despite her assurances to Duff and his assurances to her, she jumped.

She was expecting the return of the reporters from hell, but there was Woody of all people.  He was charging up the alley glaring and frowning: Woody on the attack.  They'd always gotten along even if his dumb pranks annoyed her so it was a double surprise to see him here and to see him so angry.  

If he had been looking for her, he'd been lucky to find her.  Chinatown had been one of her favorite haunts since she and Randi snuck out with fake ID's and hit the little bars down on the side outside the main walk.  Maybe she'd mentioned it to Jimmy a couple of times, and they'd all come down here once, but it was just once.  Maybe Woody had been down here every day looking for her. 

Cautious but not alarmed,  Rayne took another couple of steps closer.  "Hi Woody.  What are you doing here?"

He stood there by the window slashing the air with his hands.  "Looking for you like I said.  You know what, I want some answers and it seems like nobody knows anything.  Everybody keeps saying, Rayne knows, she's behind it."

Oh no...not this.   She thought she wouldn't have to deal with anybody this afternoon, still didn't know how he'd found her and wasn't sure she was going to be able to handle it.   "Come on, Woody, you know that's crap's not true.  I wouldn't do something like that.  Pink Sunglasses is lying and I'm not behind anything."  She took a calming breath, wondered what she should do, and decided to try to just get away from him.  Walking in the opposite direction, she told him,  "Go away and leave me alone."

"Did you hear me?  You're some cool bitch aren't you! Running around down here, dumped Jimmy for that perv from Flight and took all our money with you!  You're not getting away with this, Rayne. Jim was my good friend and you ripped him off and you're ripping me and the other guys off for no good reason I can see.  Hey!  You're not walking away from this!"  

Whatever he meant by 'perv', it was none of his business who she dated, and she was definitely not going to talk about Jimmy.  Anger began to replace anxiety.  The money.  It was the same ridiculous thing the reporters had asked her, what happened to the money, as if she could have taken it, as if she would, as if it would have been worth it to her to even bother.  

Rayne stopped, tried to put her rising temper back in its box, and faced him.  It wasn't his fault; he probably believed anything the rest of those idiots in Sandy Point told him.  "You don't know what you're talking about. You don't understand anything about contracts and I didn't take your money. Anyone who says I did is crazy and that includes you."

"You know what Rayne?  You go on talking about crazy.  Whatever you did, there's no money to even bury Jim now.  He's got a little sister, that money would have gone to her but not now. Now there's nothing!  She don't have enough to even come up here.  What're you gonna do about that Rayne?  You gonna go dig the hole yourself!?"

Her heart fell out and broke into a thousand pieces on the stones under her feet.  She had prepared herself, believed she knew the worst someone could hurl at her.  She was wrong.  Not this. Nothing had prepared her for this.

She was going to throw up.  She was going to faint. Rayne put both hands to her face to keep breathing and standing and somehow she didn't fall over.  She forced her shaking hands down far enough to look past their defense, challenging Woody.  "That can't be true," she said, looking at him, waiting for him to say, yeah, not all of it, not the part about Jimmy's body, not that part. 

"It's true all of it's true."  Woody was shouting.  The place was practically empty but the barista was staring at them.  Someone up on the balcony said "what in the world".  "You got him killed and then you done this!  You deny it all you want but it's right there and everybody sees it!"

It could be the truth, some of it could be the truth.  She'd hadn't really studied the contract, and Jimmy had been in the middle of it all along to take the blame if something went wrong.  If that contract had been voided, if there was a loophole, a parachute clause buried down in there, it didn't take a giant leap to see where the money would have gone if it didn't go to Jimmy.  

Gemma Wilson.

She yanked out her cell, stabbed at it, punching in Duff's number and sending one terse text. "Going to Hitman".  She had no idea what he would do with that and she did not care.  If she could do one last thing for Jimmy, she had to do it now.


It took her fifteen minutes to cross the long three blocks from Chinatown to her father's studio just off the crossing at the center of the city.  The parking lot was full.  She saw Slim's vintage Corvette in his reserved space and her father's bike wedged in the back where he usually left it.  Lucky, lucky day: both of them were here.

Hannah slid a stack of mail to one side on her spotless desk and looked up at her, polite but confused. "Rayne?  Cooper is in session-"

"Is Slim up there?"  Rayne swung her gaze toward the stairs and plastered a bright expression on her face.  Hannah definitely didn't know her well enough to suspect anything was wrong.

"Yes but he has an appointment-"

"And I'm right on time."

Hannah rapidly tapped the keyboard and glanced back at Rayne. "But I don't have you down on the calendar-"  Rayne was already at the stairs.  Hannah would probably warn Slim she was on her way up but she didn't care. Rayne's pulse was racing and her body shook with pent-up anger.  Let her try and stop me – let anyone try.

Driven by the adrenaline pumping through her body, Rayne shoved open the door and walked in. Slim sat at ease behind his desk casually sipping his coffee; his friendly calm only infuriated her more.  Whatever was going on, Slim would know about it and he would probably be just as cool and controlled as he always was.  "Rayne?  This is a surprise.  Your dad's in a session, he's likely to be there all afternoon.  Can I do something for you?"

Smiling, Rayne approached his desk and stopped about a foot away, close enough to force him to look up at her.  "Yes, I think so.  I'd like to know why Hitman offered a contract to Jimmy.  I'd like to know why you voided it, and I'd like to know today.  I'm asking for a friend.  The dead one." She amped up the smile, waiting.

Slim stared at her.  Speechless, she thought.   Come on Slim, give it to me.  He set down the coffee and crossed his arms and rocked back in his chair.  "You better have a seat and tell me what's going on."

"You mean this chair, Slim?"  She flopped into the seat and threw a leg over the arm the way she would have done as a kid to claim a chair while watching tv.

"What if I want two chairs Slim?"  She stood and walked over to the second chair leaning on it with her knee before upending it, slamming it against the wall with enough force to leave an indentation. Slim finally rose walked around the desk and watched her without responding.

"What if I fall out of the chair Slim?  What if my contract says sit on the chair and I fall out of the chair and die?  Would you refuse to give my family the money I would have made if I hadn't fallen out of the chair and died? What if it was Hugs and that was the only money she had in the whole world?"  Rayne's smile wavered in the face of that grief and and guilt and sick frustration.  It was like Hugs.  It was Jimmy's little sister.

Slim shifted his considerable weight on the edge of his desk and gave her that stern, patronizing parental gaze. Rayne had expected this more than anything else: the look you would give a child who threw a tantrum.  When he spoke, his words were firm.  "You need to calm down and listen to me. Jimmy and the other members of that band knew the terms.  Their agent knew the terms.  I'm sorry he died, Rayne, but he didn't fall off a chair.  He died of an overdose.  You don't need to get mixed up in this -"

Taking a step closer, totally losing it, she screamed right in his face. "Don't you tell me not to get mixed up in it!  Everybody thinks my dad wrote it for me and I deliberately took Jimmy down.  Do you know how that feels?  That's some fucking present - here, sweetheart, have a contract for your boyfriend, the one I can't stand - oh, snap, forgot to tell you about the death clause, that's the extra special part I thought you'd really like."

She took a breath and with an enormous act of will, lowered and sharpened her voice - as hard and clear as she could manage. "That contract wasn't for me, and it wasn't for Jimmy either.  It was for Gemma Wilson."

She finally saw him react, nothing more than warily tightening his mouth, but there it was.  Slim responded gently though.  "Rainie, you're mistaken.  Gemma got the same deal as the rest of them. Contract is voided, she walks away with nothing.  Hitman had one contract with Gemma - we have no further business with her."

Rayne blinked, confused, stunned.   She had been absolutely certain that she had eliminated the ridiculously improbable, that she knew the truth, that it was her father's affair with Gemma that drove him to write that contract.  Gemma was the one who got the gift.  She'd considered blackmail but that was so stupid - for what, sex?  Nobody would care.  And why would they cut Gemma off now if they were afraid of her?  How could she be so wrong?  The rage she'd felt gave way to weariness.

"But I thought...nothing?  How could that be...why did my father offer a contract then...he hated Toad...it doesn't make any sense.  You're sure there was nothing in there for Gemma?  And why would you void it like that?   You didn't have to do that.  It doesn't say he had to die clean and sober. It doesn't say that!"

Still not answering the question, Slim skipped right over the 'why'.  "I know it might be hard on -"

"No, no," she interrupted him.  He wasn't going to tell her.   He wasn't going to explain or even lie about it.   He was going to just ignore her.  She briefly rested one hand on the back of the chair to steady herself and when that didn't work, crossed her arms over her breasts and dug her nails into her bare arms.  He did not care.  Whatever was going on, he was willing to shove her aside to keep it a secret.  There really was nothing else she could do but beg.

"Slim, there isn't even any money to bury him.  Jimmy has a sister but she can't come up here to get his body or arrange a funeral because she doesn't have the money, the money that should have gone to his family."  Her voice caught and gave way under sobs that shook her whole body.  "How can you do this?  He's just lying out there!"

The door opened behind her.  Slim abruptly looked up, his eyes narrowing, then straightened up and aimed a long, unnerving look past her.  She glanced aside and saw Duff walking through the door and throwing that challenge right back at Slim.  Duff said nothing to him, did not even look at him again.

Duff wrapped his firm, steadying hand around her left shoulder.  Rayne grabbed his arm, holding hard onto  the familiar comfort of Duff's strength.  She had nothing left inside but a dark hole filled with pain and loss, but for a moment she fought back.  She looked up at the man she'd grown up with and always trusted, trying desperately to think of a way to reach him.  She couldn't.  He was betraying her.

"Come with me, cara."

Without another word, Rayne allowed Duff to guide her out of the office.  Time seemed to move at a snail's pace as they descended the stairs.  She wanted a drink, wanted the oblivion at the bottom of a bottle of Bombay Sapphire.  Somehow she had to deal with all this mess and couldn't do it as long as she hurt so very much.  Couldn't, or wouldn't?  Afraid of a little pain are we?

She heard her father's voice but solace wouldn't come from him, not today.  His comfort wasn't what she needed - it was Duff's.  Duff did not so much as look in Cooper's direction.

"Rainie?  Rayne!"


  1. I've got to say, this chapter gave me a lot of hope for Rayne. She's a born force of nature, and we could see that start to emerge in her confrontation with Slim. She's as capable of fucking up as the next person, but damn it, she's going to try to fix whatever she can. And while she can't fix the whole mess with Cooper and Slim and Gemma, she can at least kick Cooper into gear.

    Good to see you back!

    1. Rayne's struggling through guilt and loss, and the enormous distraction of Duff, but she's not likely to back off now. She knows her father was involved with Gemma. She knows he didn't want to offer that contract. She knows the business well enough to recognize something is very wrong, and she's volatile and angry. She's been hurt and innocent bystanders like Woody and Jimmy's sister have been hurt, and Slim's dismissal hurt and angered her even more. Neither Slim nor Cooper ever anticipated that Rayne would take a serious interest in the whole mess with Gemma but she has, and she's closing in. It's definitely going to rattle Cooper and there's nothing much he can do to stop her.

      Thank you so much from both of us! As you know, shit happens, it's frequently very difficult to write, the unexpected BS of life, but this one has been interesting to think through. It felt like we were circling both Duff and Rayne, trying to understand where they're going, creating a version we realized was wrong and starting again.

      I cannot thank you enough for your support.

    2. There isn't much more I can add to what Beth said except to add my thanks for your continued support. If 1 person receives pleasure from reading our work, that makes it worthwhile. Thank you so much.

  2. Poor Rayne. I know what Woody said cut deep. All she ever wanted was to protect and help Jimmy. Even when he signed the contract to begin with she knew there was something shady going on, she tried to tell him. And now for it to all fall on her shoulders and the scapgoat just sucks. I can't help but feel how alone she is now on an emotional level. The men in her life are pulling her close, trying to protect her but at the same time keeping her at arms length because they have secrets they are trying to keep. Cooper and Slim with the Gemma cover up and Duff with whatever is in that locked room. I hope they're all ready because now that she's knocking on those doors she is not giving up until she gets on the other side.

    I'm so happy to read this, brings me a smile on an otherwise dreary day :) You two are the best.

    1. You are absolutely right. There is no stopping her now that she is knocking on those doors. How she deals with the truth will be interesting in both circumstances.

      Thank you so much for leaving a comment. It keeps us going and means a lot.

    2. Thank you from me too! Rayne tried to protect Jimmy although when she first met him, it wasn't what she thought she was getting into. She made a promise to stay with him, and she didn't keep it, and he died, Her guilt is intense. And, since everybody keeps blaming her for something she did not do on top of the guilt, it's a toxic brew of anger and loss. Rayne's a strong young woman - she'll open the doors. What she does with what's behind them, is, as Gayl said, another story.

      I can't tell you how much I look forward to your comments. Thank you...

  3. I really felt for her confusion and guilt in this episode. The more she uncovers something, it seems the deeper the rabbit hole gets. I wish she could get some straightforward answers but who knows when that will be or even if she'll believe the simplest explanation given to her.

    1. Thank you! Rayne, being Rayne, will keep after this. She knows something is really wrong, and she knows Slim is stonewalling her. The real explanation is not one she would want to believe, not at all. And Duff is providing exactly what she needs, someone to hold her up without asking questions.

  4. I really enjoyed this. Rayne is an amazing character.

    1. Thank you so much! After a really long unintended break, we hope to pick this up again. Rayne is kind of relentless and comes after the writer as well. Thanks again - it helps to know someone enjoys this.