Entries in Soap Opera Sunday (8)

Sunday
Apr272008

SOS: The Princess and the Pauper

This post is intended to be part of Soap Opera Sunday, Brillig and Kate's ongoing series celebrating the melodrama in ordinary lives. I'm not sure whether anyone else is playing this week, but that's okay. I'm used to dancing with myself. Names in the following story have been changed; I don't need operatives from a Middle Eastern nation-state hunting me down. But all the other details are absolutely true.I met Dara in choir our junior year of high school in the early spring of 1982. Sitting next to each other in the alto section, we must have been a study in contrasts: me, busty with extremely short, bleached hair and wearing concert T-shirts and torn Levi's; her, tall, slim, and unfailingly elegant in the latest European fashions. All the girls in choir wanted to be Dara's friend, but English was her distant third language after Arabic and French, and this proved to be quite a barrier when she first arrived.

I had an edge; I'd studied French since third grade, and while far from fluent, didn't mind hacking that beautiful language to bits in the struggle to understand and be understood. It turned out that my year-long course of study and competition in Debate ("Oil Conflicts and Solutions in the Arabian Peninsula") also served me well; no other girl I knew could name all of the United Arab Emirates, for example.

Dara was from Beirut; she had come to California to live with her older brother and her sister-in-law when the Lebanese Civil War escalated in early 1982. She was justifiably heartbroken and terrified about what was going on in her country, and the fact that I could actually find Lebanon on a map made her feel like someone in America sympathized.

The first time I slept over at her house, I asked her what her father did; she replied that he was a minister. I remember thinking, "No wonder she's so strict about her prayers--her father is an imam." I nodded and smiled politely, and we moved onto other topics.

But not many days afterward, when we were in Taco Bell (of all places), a middle-aged woman saw Dara and immediately fell down at her feet, hugging her ankles and moaning. It was the only time I ever saw Dara flustered. She bent down and hissed Arabic into the woman's ear; the woman immediately jumped to her feet and, bowing repeatedly, backed out of the restaurant and fled.

Dara recovered her composure, but once we got back to her house, I asked her what had just happened. She sighed, pulled a big box out of her closet, and gestured for me to open it. Inside were piles of different Arabic magazines with Dara on the covers. "You're a model? That's so cool!" I exclaimed in French. She shook her head, sighed again, and started to explain.

Though Dara was hesitant at first, the details soon came rushing out; I think she was relieved to share her many secrets with someone. It turned out her father wasn't a minister; he was a Minister with a capital 'M,' a member of the Lebanese Presidential Cabinet. Dara's family was an ancient and royal one; she wrote out her very long and exalted title for me in Arabic and in English on a piece of binder paper (I still have it); it included phrases like 'Serene Grace' and 'Princess of Mekka,' and even the ball-point ink on the college-lined surface looked regal.

She had been engaged since birth to the Crown Prince of one of those little countries I'd studied; once she turned 18 and graduated from high school the next year, preparations for their royal wedding would begin. And the final bomb she dropped that afternoon? Her best friend Stephanie, with whom she had had several long and involved telephone conversations in lightning-fast French in my presence, was none other than Princess Stéphanie of Monaco.

I'd been hanging out with a real princess. The Hans Christian Andersen, Grimm, Perrault, and Andrew Lang I'd been reading all my life were scant preparation for this; I was stunned. Dara made me swear not to treat her any differently and not to tell anyone at school. She was enjoying a relatively normal life--minimal and unobtrusive bodyguards, no paparazzi--and she planned to savor it for the next year or so. I agreed, and life went on.

Dara's English improved rapidly as the end of the school year approached. She started spending time with Melanie, another girl from choir. In May, Dara's parents moved to our town (and just in time, too; in June, Israel invaded Lebanon and laid siege to Beirut). Dara's brother had bought and furnished a house for them in preparation for their arrival, and it happened to be next door to Melanie's in an exclusive subdivision on the other side of town from my house.

I didn't mind Melanie, but she actively disliked me, so the three of us didn't do much together that summer. This was fine; I had my weekly Dungeons & Dragons group and a boyfriend whose parents had cable, making near-24-hour worship of the newly minted MTV possible. It never occurred to me that Melanie might try to sabotage me when I was otherwise engaged.

Staying over at Dara's was always a treat. A beautiful swimming pool surrounded by lush flowering shrubs graced the back yard. Gorgeous Persian rugs and paintings covered nearly every surface of the interior. The exotic foods her mother prepared were delicious: flatbread with labneh; shish taouk; and my favorite, lahmadjoun, a pizza-like disk of dough spread with minced, spiced lamb, tomatoes, and onions.

The cold water that came out of their refrigerator dispenser was somehow scented/flavored with roses. And Dara's bed was a marvel: the king-sized waterbed (remember, it was 1982) had a featherbed between the mattress and the Egyptian cotton sheets and was topped with a lofty, silk-covered down comforter. It was the most insanely luxurious thing I'd ever encountered.

Then there was her car. Dara would have preferred something sportier, but her brother maintained that a big American sedan was much safer for her to drive. Consequently, the vehicle in which we cruised around town, blasting cassettes of Dara's beloved Bernard Sauvat, was a huge, swanky boat of a Cadillac.

Even with all these perqs, I loved Dara for herself. I couldn't get enough of her stories of a life so wholly other. She was kind, funny, and interested in more than what went on in the confines of our small Central Valley town. I enjoyed her company, and I think she valued mine. I always listened when she lamented over the latest bombing of her home city. I tried to comfort her when she confessed her worries about the eventuality of marrying someone so much older than she was. She cried in my arms that horrible week in September, when Princess Grace died and Bachir Gemayel was assassinated on the same day.

All this bonding made what happened in November that much less comprehensible to me....

To be continued next week, in fine SOS tradition!

Saturday
Oct272007

The Lost Girl

Thalia's Child has written some really great Soap Opera Sunday entries lately about people in her own family. She inspired me to tell this story. (If you are new to the SOS scene, you should know that it is the brainchild of Brillig and Kate; see their fab sites for links to all sorts of great tales of love, grief, and drama.)

Here are a few bits of exposition to help you make sense of the following story. I am an active member of the LDS church, colloquially known as the Mormons.

One of our basic beliefs is that after this life is over, the righteous will live in the presence of Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father not separately and singly, but as families. We believe that marriage does not have to be only 'until death do you part,' but can last into the eternities.

We call the simple and beautiful ceremony of eternal marriage 'sealing'; it is a sacred ritual performed by proper priesthood authority in any of our Temples around the world. Children are also sealed to their parents, ensuring that those who are faithful to their Temple covenants will be together again after the resurrection.

We also believe that God, being no respecter of persons, has provided a way for those who have died to receive these sealing ordinances, if they desire to accept them, in the afterlife. In the Temple, these ordinances are performed by proxy, which means that the living can serve in place of those who have gone on. We call this 'temple work.'

This is one of the reasons many LDS people, including myself, are avid genealogists. We want to find our ancestors and provide them with the opportunity to be sealed together as one great family from generation to generation, again believing that they are always free to reject these ordinances if they so choose.

We believe this is the meaning behind the gorgeous scripture in Malachi, chapter 4, which reads:

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and
dreadful day of the LORD:
And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the
children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite
the earth with a curse.

Several years ago, Patrick began attending the annual conference of The Copyright Society, which is held every June at a fancy resort up at Lake George called The Sagamore. The whole family was always invited; we had a grand time and looked forward to it every year.

I first started doing a little genealogy (or family history) nine or ten years ago, when Christian and James were small. Imagine my surprise to find out that I had many ancestors from the Lake George area. In fact, my first relative to join the church, my great-great-great-great grandfather John Tanner, had once owned the very property on which The Sagamore now stands, part of a town called Bolton in Warren County.

John Tanner was a wealthy landowner with twelve children. Unfortunately, at some point he contracted a disease in his leg that forced him to be in a wheelchair. He was in this handicapped
condition when he met Jared and Simeon Carter, newly called Mormon missionaries, in 1832. He believed their message of a Restored Gospel, with restored priesthood authority, and told them that he would get baptized if they would heal his leg.

The Carter brothers commanded him to rise up and walk, and he did: he got up, walked a mile to Lake George, and got baptized. Soon after, he sold all his property, traveled to Kirtland, Ohio (where most of the Latter-day Saints were living at the time), and gave all his money to the prophet Joseph Smith to help get the church out of debt. Later, he walked all the way to Utah with his family and settled there.

So the next time we went to the Sagamore, I decided to do a little cemetery reconnoitering and see what I could find. In the big Bolton Cemetery down by the lake, I found the grave of John Tanner's first wife and a few of their children who had died in infancy. I wrote down the names and dates and took photos of the tombstones. It may sound a bit creepy to those who think graveyards are scary places, but I had the cozy feeling you get at Thanksgiving, when you are surrounded by people you love and who love you.

There were a couple of other, much smaller cemeteries on the Bolton map I'd gotten; I looked for those next. The smallest was hard to find; it's in a grassy, overgrown field not far from a golf course, easy to miss as you're driving by. But I spotted after about the third try, parked, and got out.

These stones had not been well tended; their writing was much harder to read. But almost immediately I found two that captured my interest. One read:

Dorcas W.
wife of Harvey D. Tanner
died May 2, 1842
aged 25 years 4 mos & 29 days,

and the other read:

Horace W.
son of Harvey and Dorcas W. Tanner
died May 2, 1842
aged 4 years & 5 mos.

I had a different feeling about these two graves: a sense of sadness and loss. How had these two died on the same day in May so long ago? Disease? Fire? Catastrophic accident? I didn't know, but I felt very concerned about these two people.

Call it a hunch, or the whisperings of the Holy Spirit, but I HAD to find out who these people were and if/how they were related to me. I started looking once I got home.

LDS Church records showed that the first graves I'd found at the big cemetery were all relatives whose temple work had been done.

Church records also showed that Harvey had been sealed to his wife Laura Cooledge, whom he married in 1843, and their two children, Dorcas Anna and Morgan Harvey (who has a very interesting story of his own--he married a certain Sarah Eliza PERKINS in 1888!).

But there was no LDS Church record anywhere of Harvey Dean having an earlier wife and son.

A little digging in census and Warren county records confirmed, though, that Harvey had indeed been married before. I submitted Dorcas's and Horace's information through the Temple Ready program. I did Dorcas's temple work, and then Patrick and I were able to stand in for Harvey and Dorcas when they were sealed and when little Horace was sealed to them.

Later, I found Dorcas's family going back a few generations; I've gotten their temple work done as well.

This was the first time I'd had a confirming witness of what I had been told by a Church patriarch in a special blessing many years earlier. There IS genealogical work in my family lines that only I can do. All the family I know of from this line is out West now. What other relative of mine would have occasion to be up prowling around Lake George while these tombstones were still legible?


I don't know, but I do know that I felt an unmistakable warmth and sense of rightness when Dorcas, my lost girl, was finally reunited with her family.

Saturday
Oct202007

Prom Night 1983

Though this story is not terribly soapy, I am nonetheless officially calling it part of Soap Opera Sunday, that weekly blogventure concocted by Brillig and Kate, guaranteed to make you laugh, gasp, and maybe even mist up a bit.

If you read the post just below this one, you'll remember that I spent most of my spare time Senior year with a certain Paul: swimmer, water polo player, co-AP-class-taker. Despite the fact that we had tons in common, our relationship really was like two worlds colliding. Picture a Venn diagram where the two circles barely touch: that was us.

Paul was a jock from the side of town that had trees (in California's Central Valley, that means you are from a well-established neighborhood). His mother was the golf pro at the local country club. He grew up in our cowtown, and so knew 'everybody.' It didn't hurt that his grandfather had founded a world-famous non-profit corporation that was based in our town and employed a ton of folks.

I, on the other hand, lived on downtrodden Main Street right next door to a mortuary. My mom worked long, hard hours trying to support my siblings and me. We'd moved to town right before my Junior year, so I was an interloper on long-established circles of friends. I had very short, multi-colored hair; Paul's friends preferred hanging out with people who had that chlorine-platinum thing going on.

My few friends liked Paul, but they were way too busy to pay much attention to him. Adele, Traci, Janice, and I were the entire yearbook staff that year; our advisor had quit, and in the vacuum, we four co-editors ran the show. In the days before computer layouts, we spent tons of unsupervised time with those big, blue-lined sheets putting together a yearbook for a high school of 2,000 students. We took almost all of the candid shots (many we staged), developed them ourselves in the darkroom, and wrote every bit of the copy. I don't know how we had keys to that yearbook room, or how the school let us do all this on our own, but we did, and we pulled many an all-nighter making those publication deadlines all by our teenaged selves.

So I was either working on the yearbook or hanging out with Paul all year long. Paul and I talked about books, Carl Sagan, and music. I'd sit next to him while he played Bach's Two-Part Inventions on his mother's little spinet piano. He taught me how to drive, first in a golf cart, and then in his ancient station wagon. We golfed straight through the winter (he could play for free). We watched the entire eight hours of the BBC's production of Nicholas Nickleby with Roger Rees on PBS, completely riveted. Paul was the best.

Prom time came around; though outwardly a rebel, I was enough of a romantic to know that I had to get to Prom at least once in my life. I searched high and low for an atypical dress that I could afford, not wanting any pastel taffeta or satin touching my person. I finally found a Grecian-style white dress with a cool beaded clasp at the shoulder--very different, and very flattering. I put it on layaway. A few housecleanings and babysitting jobs later, it was mine.

Paul had no money to rent evening clothes. He was too busy with sports to have a job, and his parents weren't the type to hand out cash to him, like, ever. So he ended up wearing his only suit: a horrible denim-colored polyester number with Western detailing. But he was handsome and hilarious; I didn't mind.

Limo? Oh, no. But we didn't have to go in Paul's station wagon, with the vinyl seats so weathered they had petrified and cracked, exposing yellowed, crumbling foam. No, for Prom, Paul's mom graciously loaned him her K-Car--a nice, Reliant automobile, with burgundy velour interior. We were stylin,' folks.

Paul did scrounge up money for a gorgeous corsage: gardenias, my favorite flower in all the world. They looked perfect with my long, white dress.

May in the San Joaquin valley is about the worst time and place for someone with allergy-triggered asthma. I woke up Prom morning barely able to breathe. The jasmine was blooming enthusiastically, as if Spring had conspired to murder me. My mother took me to the doctor and to the chiropractor, but neither helped much. I fainted while Mom was curling my hair, but there was no way I was missing out on my big night.

I don't remember whether we went out to dinner. I do know we weren't planning on doing anything with groups; Traci went to Prom with this hot, long-haired guy we barely knew from the stoner crowd; Janice and Adele were boycotting Prom (probably becaused no one had asked them out). The swim crowd barely tolerated me, and truthfully? I was happy to have Paul all to myself.

We got to the dance, stood in line for photos, and danced a few slow dances. At that point, I'd had enough. I was exhausted from trying to breathe; I asked Paul to take me home. On the K-Car's radio on the way, we heard the new single by our favorite band for the very first time: "Every Breath You Take," by The Police. High irony, people.

I must have fainted again; the next thing I knew, I was in the ER. Apparently Paul had run into my house and right into my mom's room, scared her awake, and then sped to the hospital with me unconscious all the way.

The doctor gave me a shot of adrenaline, and almost immediately, I had blessed relief. Anyone who has never had asthma has no idea what it feels like to suffocate slowly no matter how hard you try to get air into your lungs. Gorgeous, perfect air: there's nothing better.

An extremely kind, huge male nurse took the very best care of me. My mom and I still call him 'The Gentle Giant.' He pinned my gardenia corsage to my hospital gown and got me fresh hot blankets straight out of the autoclave: bliss. I spent the rest of the night in a curtained-off area, Mom on one side of the hospital bed, Paul holding my hand on the other.

I haven't had an asthma attack since; I have no idea why. My asthma pretty much disappeared after that night.

Paul and I dated the whole summer after graduation, but then we broke up when he went off to UC Berkeley. It broke my heart, but he was excited to explore college life to the fullest extent allowed by law, and we both knew a long-distance relationship wouldn't work. We stayed in contact for a year or two, but after I moved to Utah to go to BYU, we lost touch entirely.

Patrick and I saw Paul a few years ago at my 20-year high school reunion. The three of us went to breakfast together. The two men were like Ps in a pod (pun very much intended); they got along great.

Paul has never been married; he's never even dated someone for as long as we went out (almost exactly a year). I asked him why over breakfast; he's handsome, in great shape, smart, employed, etc. It seemed to me he'd have women crawling all over him. He laughed and said he always ends up correcting his dates' grammar, something that's always a romance killer. Patrick said wryly, "Clearly that was never a problem with Luisa." Poor Paul: I hope he finds his own Grammar Fascista someday.

Saturday
Oct132007

Clever Trevor, Part Five

At long last, faithful readers, here is the final installment of "Clever Trevor," part of the ongoing Soap Opera Sunday series invented by those bloggoddesses Brillig and Kate. If you are new to the story, click on the Soap Opera Sunday hyperlink in the Topical Guide down and to the right to read Parts One through Four.

“Hey there.”

Laura awoke to a gentle hand on her shoulder. Blinking her gritty eyes in the early morning light, she tried to sort out the mass of different discomforts assaulting her all at once. Condensed fog had enveloped her in a damp, chilly blanket, accentuating the cold breeze. Her hips and ribs were sore and stiff after prolonged contact with the cold balcony decking. Her face itched; when she scratched it, dark dog hair came away on her fingers. She sat up with a start; apparently she had been using Graf as a pillow. A pretty, dark-haired woman in a bathrobe knelt before her. She smiled at Laura.

“I wish Graf had told me you were here,” she said. “I’m sure we could have found you a much more comfortable place to sleep last night. Come in the house; let’s get you dry and warm.”

The black lab lifted up his head, yawned widely, and looked at the woman. “Laura needed to stay close to me. She suffered a bit of trauma last night.”

“Laura, is it? What happened? Are you hurt?” the woman asked Laura, her eyes full of concern.

“No.” Laura shook her head. “Just my heart. And probably my pride.”

“Well, those aren’t uncommon injuries. And they’ll eventually heal. I’m glad it’s nothing worse.”

The woman smiled and held out her hand. “I’m Samarrah; my husband is the Golden Gate Rugby Club's coach. You were here last night for the party, yes?"

Laura nodded, unable to meet the woman's eye.

"You have a familiar look about you; I’m guessing I know your mother. Come on inside. You can have a hot bath, and we’ll talk over breakfast.”

Laura took Samarrah’s outstretched hand and levered herself up off the cold, wet deck. She looked down at herself; she hoped her favorite red sweater and plaid wool skirt hadn’t been damaged by the moisture. This was her lucky debate outfit. Maybe its luck ran out last night, she thought, and shivered.

“Right this way. I’ll get the taps running, and then I’ll look around and see if I can find you something dry to put on.”

With Graf at her side, Laura followed her hostess into the house and down a hallway. Samarrah was busy in a beautiful little bathroom, turning on heat lamps, getting out towels. Steaming hot water was already pouring into the large terracotta bathtub from a tap shaped like a lion’s head. Samarrah dumped in some bath salts, and the scent of rose geranium instantly filled the air.

“There now; you’re all set.” She smiled at Laura. “There’s a robe on the back of the door, and I’ll put some dry clothes right outside the door. Take your time; you look like you could use a good long soak. And feel free to lock the door behind me; I won’t be offended.”

Laura wasn’t very successful at keeping back tears. “Thanks,” she whispered around the huge lump in her throat.

“You’re welcome,” Samarrah answered. She walked out with Graf and closed the door quietly.

Laura stripped off her wet things and sank into the deep tub. So much had happened in the past twenty-four hours that she felt like a different person. Colin had turned out to be a complete jerk, and she couldn’t even have a very good self-pity party, since she’d brought this whole mess on herself. Would Jill ever talk to her again? Would her parents even let her? What about her mom?

Laura washed and then slid down until she up to her neck in the water. She covered her face with her hands and cried quietly, not wanting to be heard over the sound of the rushing faucet. The sound of clicking toenails on the tile floor made her break off in mid-sob; Laura tried to see through the thick steam. Had Graf come back in?

“It is I,” Twee informed her with the slightest of grunts as he jumped up onto the edge of the bathtub.

“Twee! How…”

“I used the Sandburg poem,” the cat said with a yawn. “It works great around here.” He raised a forepaw and licked it carefully. “Graf told me everything, dear one. I'm so sorry. I hope a night in the cold damp has cured you of your need for independence?”

“I was such an idiot.” Laura hung her head.

“Agreed,” Twee said, but Laura could tell from his purring that he meant it fondly.

“How’s Mom?”

“She’s fine. I filled her in—the edited version—she doesn’t need to know about Mister Date Rape at the moment. She and Samarrah knew each other at school; you’re very lucky it seems to be such a small world.”

“Yeah, no kidding.”

“You’re pruning up,” Twee observed. “Why don’t you get out and get dressed? I smell toast and bacon. After we breakfast and say our goodbyes, I’ll take you home via the Byway. I promise: you’ll never want to take a bus again.”

“Oh, believe me. I’m already convinced of that fact,” Laura said, and got out of the bathtub.

Once home, Laura was definitely grounded. Not that it mattered; outside of school, Jill was only allowed to see Laura at debate tournaments, and Laura didn’t feel much like trying to strike up any new friendships for quite a long time. She kept busy with school, and of course, she always had Twee for company. It was hard to be lonely with him around.

Months later, Laura got a small package in the mail with a North Yorkshire postmark. Inside was a letter written in perfect copperplate script wrapped around a cassette tape. She crushed the letter into a wad after reading the first unbelievable words:

“Dearest Laura,
I’ve been remembering our time together fondly, and I’m sorry we didn’t part on the best of terms…”

“Best of terms? Is that what you call it?” she muttered.


“Oh, open it back up and finish it,” Twee urged her from his accustomed spot on her pillow. Laura smoothed out the crumpled paper and scanned the rest.

“It’s just a bunch of small talk—his A-levels are coming up, whatever they are, rugby, rugby, blah, blah, blah. How could he write me this kind of letter after what he did to me?”

“Maybe someday I’ll publish an article on the emotional stuntedness of British boarding school graduates,” Twee said.

Laura wadded the letter up and threw it at the cat. She examined the tape. He’d written on it with a black marker. “Songs That Remind Me of You,” she read aloud. “I wonder how many of his other American girlfriends are getting this same mix right about now.” She leaned over and popped it into her stereo.

A half hour later, she’d had enough. “He’s got terrible taste, Twee,” she said. “What did I ever see in him?”

“A lot that wasn’t actually there,” he replied.

“You always have an answer, don’t you?”

“That is my job,” the cat said modestly.

All the previous songs had been ones known to Laura, but now a new one came on. A gravelly voice in a thick Cockney accent started singing:

Knock me down with a feather

Clever Trevor

Widebrows wonder whether
Clever Trevor’s clever

Either have they got

Nor neither haven’t not

Got no right to make a clot

Out of Trevor
Why should I feel bad
About something I ain’t ‘ad
Such stupidness is mad
‘Cause nothing underfoot

Comes to nothing less to add…

“Ugh, make it stop,” Twee complained.


“My pleasure,” said Laura. She ejected the cassette and started pulling the tape out of it in big, loose handfuls. “Here’s to you, Clever Trevor,” she said, and tossed the whole mess into the wastebasket.

Saturday
Sep222007

Clever Trevor, Part Four

Hurray! I'm finally back on the Soap Opera Sunday wagon. Brillig and Kate's brainchild is sweeping Planet Blog; check their sites for other great soapy stories. If you need a refresher, here are the links for Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.

“I’m so glad we’re finally here,” said Jill. “I’m starving.”

Laura wrinkled her nose. “Really? I’m still too grossed out by the smell of that bus to be able to think about food.”

“Well, as soon as we check in, let’s go get some dinner. You should probably eat something.”

“This is some hotel,” breathed Laura as they pushed through the revolving door. It looked like a palace; huge, fluted pillars supported a triple-height ceiling that was painted all over with frescoes of nymphs and cherubs. Liveried doormen stood along the hall or helped guests with matched, monogrammed leather luggage sets. Laura tried not to gawk as they walked up the carpeted steps to the long marble front desk. A uniformed attendant looked up politely as Jill approached.

“May I help you?”

“Yes, we’re checking in. You should have a reservation for Jill Westphal.”

The attendant looked through his register. “Ah, yes, Miss Westphal. But before you do so, I should inform you that you have a visitor waiting for you in the bar. He just arrived a few moments ago. I’ll let him know that you are here.” He turned to the bank of telephones behind him.

Jill turned to Laura and squealed. “It must be Simon! But I wonder why he’s in the bar. Why wouldn’t he just wait for us in his room?”

“I hope Colin’s with him. Then we can all go to dinner.” Laura tucked her hair behind her ears nervously. She hadn’t had a minute to freshen up after getting off the bus and walking several windy blocks to the hotel. Maybe she could go find a restroom and put on some lip gloss.

“Jill,” said someone quietly. But it wasn’t Simon’s charming, accented voice. Jill and Laura turned around slowly.

Mr. Westphal stood there, his face grim.

“What exactly are you doing here, Jill?”

“I…I…” Jill shut her mouth and looked down at her shoes. “I’m sorry, Daddy,” she whispered.

Mr. Westphal looked like he was trying to turn his daughter into ice with his stare. “Let’s go,” he said finally. “The car is in the underground garage. We have a long drive home.” Without even a glance at Laura, Mr. Westphal turned and walked away.

“Tell Simon I’m sorry I missed him,” Jill choked out. She gave Laura a look of apology, then hurried after her father.

Dumbfounded, Laura watched them walk away. She couldn’t believe Laura’s bravado had utterly wilted in the presence of her father. Their grand adventure was over before it had even begun.

How had the Westphals found out where they were? Crap! Her mother must have confronted Twee; they hadn’t told anyone else other than Colin and Simon what they were doing. Oh, her mother was going to be mad.

Laura couldn’t believe Mr. Westphal hadn’t said a word to her, that he would just leave her there. Was her mother on her way from the valley as well?

Laura doubted it; there was no way that Marie could have gotten off work on such short notice. And she must know through Twee that Laura wasn’t in any danger.

Now what was she supposed to do? She didn’t have the money to stay at this place. Her bus ticket home was for tomorrow afternoon. She twisted her empty locket on its chain and thought.

“Twee,” she whispered, feeling the cat’s presence at the edge of her consciousness, but knowing that she wouldn’t get an answer.

“What’s that you said, Laura?” Colin stood there, crisply handsome in his immaculate school uniform, looking like he’d just stepped off the set of Brideshead Revisited.

“Oh, Colin! It’s so great to see you!” Laura launched herself into his arms. Twin waves of relief and despair washed over her, and she broke down sobbing. Colin patted her back awkwardly for a few seconds, then pulled out a freshly ironed handkerchief and handed it to her.

“Thank you,” she mumbled. She blew her nose and tried to blot her face dry. Fantastic, she thought. I’ll bet I look like a total hag.

“Laura, what’s happened? Here,” Colin said, taking her hand and leading to an exquisitely upholstered couch to the side of the front desk. “Sit down and tell me everything. Where’s Jill?”

Laura sank down onto the down-stuffed cushions and told him the whole story.

“Wow,” he said when she had finished. “I had no idea you were going to go to such trouble to come and see us. What do you want to do? Shall I take you back to the bus station and see whether we can get you home tonight?”

“No! Why should I go home to an empty house? My mom’s at work. Tomorrow morning, she’ll crash until it’s time for her to get up and go back to work again. I got here; I’m already in trouble. I just want to enjoy my time with you so that it’s all worth all the grief I’m going to get tomorrow night.”

Colin’s blue eyes were grave. “Well, then. Let’s set about doing that, shall we? Come along—Golden Gate’s coach is hosting a dinner party for both teams tonight at his house in Sausalito. The bus is leaving in about a half hour. Come upstairs to our room. We’ll have to break the bad news to Simon.”

“Okay. But where will I stay?”

“We’ll figure something out. If worse comes to worst, Simon and I shall sleep on the floor, and you’ll have our bed.”

The party was overwhelming. Laura felt like she was experiencing something from the pages of a magazine. The coach’s huge Arts & Crafts house had gorgeous views of San Francisco Bay; the lights of the City through the gathering fog sparkled like jewels set in gray velvet. There were tables of beautiful food everywhere, and there were at least a hundred people present. She’d been at Simon’s side for most of the evening, but now the two teams were engaged in some good-natured trash talk over tomorrow’s game, and Laura felt a little superfluous. She wandered out the French doors to one of the balconies and leaned against the railing gazing out at the dark water. A large black Labrador got up from a bed in the corner and nuzzled at her hand. Laura smiled and rubbed his sleek head.

“I’m Graf,” the dog said. “Twee wanted me to let you know that I’m a friend, if you need one.”

“Oh!” Laura knelt down and scratched his ears. “Wow. I had no idea. I don’t know how you guys are all networked to each other, but it’s nice to know you’re here.”

The lab cocked his head and panted for a moment as if listening to something far off. “Twee feels bad that he had to tell on you. He thought Mr. Westphal would offer to bring you home; he’s sorry that he misjudged the man’s character.”

“That’s okay. I know anger makes it harder for Twee to see anything about people; from the way Jill’s dad looked at the hotel, I’m surprised Twee could see him at all.”

“Well, what’s done is done. And I’ll be at the game tomorrow, as well. Let me know if I can be of help.”

“Thank you, Graf.” Laura smiled through sudden tears and gave the dog a hug.

“What a lovely animal,” said Colin, stepping through the doorway. “But I thought you were a cat person.”

“Oh, I like some dogs,” Laura said, standing up and brushing off her mohair sweater. “He’s a sweet one.”

“Really,” Colin murmured, moving closer to Laura and taking her in his arms. “Should I be jealous?”

Laura looked at Colin’s perfect face as it drew near her own, then shut her eyes in anticipation of his kiss. She was not disappointed. Long, slow, and soft: Laura felt as if she were melting in its warmth. Colin’s arms tightened around her, pressing her into his lean body. He kissed her harder, slowly moving his lips from hers and down her jawline until he reached an especially sensitive spot just under her ear. “Laura,” he whispered, “I very much look forward to our night together.”

Laura’s eyes snapped open; she broke away from Colin’s embrace and stepped back against the railing.

“What do you mean, our night together?” she said.

Colin chuckled. “I persuaded Simon to bunk in with Gray and Fletcher tonight. We’ll have the room to ourselves.”

Laura could only shake her head, eyes wide with confusion.

“You American girls,” Colin said, grinning. “Hot for it one minute, all innocence the next. You’re maddening.” He moved in again, but Laura backed up as far as she could go.

“Girls?” Laura knew she sounded like a mindless echo. “American girls? But you’ve never been to the States before.”

“We were on the East Coast for two weeks before we came to California, remember? You can’t have thought I’d been saving myself until I met you. Although you are definitely my favorite,” he said. He reached out and traced one long finger down the side of her neck until he reached the collar of her sweater. Grasping it, he used it to pull her towards him again.

“Colin, I think somehow you’ve gotten the wrong idea about me,” she said, putting her hands against his chest and trying to push him away.

“I very much doubt that,” he said, and kissed her again. Laura tried to twist away from him, but Colin pinned her against the railing. “You’re protesting a bit too much, love,” he whispered.

A deep, menacing growl came from behind them. Startled, Colin let go of Laura and turned to see the huge Labrador standing at his feet. Laura used the moment of distraction to slide around Colin and put Graf between them.

Graf bared his teeth at Colin and growled louder.

“Get away, you bleeding monster,” Colin snarled, and kicked at Graf. Graf snapped his jaws at Colin’s leg, letting the boy know that it was no accident that he’d missed biting him.

“Come away, Laura,” said Colin, sidling around the dog to the French doors. “We’ll tell our host that his mongrel’s out of control.”

Kneeling by Graf’s side, she sank her hands into his fur and shook her head. “I’m not going anywhere with you,” she said.

“What?”

“You heard me. You’ve got the wrong idea about me, Colin. I think I’m much safer with the dog than I am with you.”

Colin’s perfect features grew cold and haughty. “Suit yourself, you bloody little tease,” he hissed, and stalked into the house.

“Thank you, Graf,” Laura whispered. “But now what am I going to do?”

I will do my very best to finish our story next week!