“You never told me you come with the house.” Oh, crap, there she went again, mouthing off before her brain had time to monitor her lips. Kristy tried for a quick save. “I mean, you sure beat a garden gnome.”
“Thanks. I think,” said the lawyer, who didn’t look like a lawyer at all.
It wasn’t just the gym clothes. He had a runner’s build, tall and lean, with well-defined leg muscles. Kristy had a good view of them beneath his red mesh shorts. Not bad. Not bad at all. He had a runner’s tan, too, his arms and legs brown from the sun, paler streaks in his light brown hair, his eyes startlingly blue in his suntanned face. There was a web of pale lines next to his eyes, from squinting into the sun.
Kristy put him roughly at her age, give or take. Thirty? Thirty-five? Given the law degree, she guessed that he was older rather than younger, although that could be misleading. He might have been Philips’ Falls answer to Doogie Howser.
If she’d know this was waiting in her backyard, she might have come to collect her inheritance a hell of a lot faster.
Be good, a little warning voice in the back of her head said. This wasn’t New York or LA. On the other hand, she doubted they still conducted witch burnings out here, so she was probably safe.
Kristy crossed her arms across her chest and leaned back against the door frame. “So what are you doing living in my backyard? Is this a Philips’ Falls zoning requirement? A lawyer on every lawn?”
“No, you just lucked out,” he said, but his eyes didn’t quite meet hers as he said it. “I found myself between things last year. Miss Ada suggested the carriage house. She needed the money; I needed a place to stay. Here we are.”
“Hmm,” said Kristy, drawing it out. “So I’m your landlady.”
“Why am I suddenly very afraid?” he joked.
At least, Kristy hoped he was joking.
“Just don’t get me in to look at your pipes and we’ll be fine,” she said.
The laugh lines on either side of his eyes deepened. Oh, crap. She’d done it again. “I won’t ask what kind of movies you’ve been watching,” he said.
Kristy automatically reached for her sunglasses, before realizing they weren’t there. Of course not. They were currently on the floor of Aunt Ada’s parlor where her tenant had last seen her hanging upside down. Butt up.
She could feel her cheeks flaming. Hopefully, he’d put it down to the heat. “I was just talking about plumbing. What sorts of movies have you been watching?”
“PBS costume dramas,” he quipped. “And documentaries about penguins.”
Kristy felt herself beginning to relax. She took out her clip and shook her hair out. “Uh-huh. Sure.”
“Well, sometimes,” he said, and gave her the sort of smile designed to win over little old ladies and susceptible juries. And, possibly, temporary landladies.
Not that she was susceptible to that sort of thing, Kristy told herself quickly. It was just that it was rather fun to flirt for flirting sake, with someone who didn’t have a clue who she was. Or, rather, who she had been. If he had any idea, he was doing a pretty good job of hiding it.
She’d often wondered about that, what it would be like to have a guy look at her just as her, not as Kristy Dare, not as Lakota Dakota, her Disney Channel alter ego, or any of her other on-screen incarnations. To see interest, not in her perceived status, but just in her. Just because.
“By the way,” he said, “not to reverse roles or anything, but I did mean it about being reasonably competent. I can’t do major structural work, but if you have a dodgy faucet, I’m your man. I used to help Miss Ada out from time to time.”
“Aren’t you lawyers supposed to be effete cerebral types?” Stupid question, given that his very non-effete body was right there, exuding pheromones.
He took the question in good spirit. “My uncle has a construction company. I spent a fair amount of time playing with power tools as a kid.”
Wow, all that and power tools. That explained why the carriage house was in so much better repair than the house. It also said a little something about those arm muscles.
“Thanks,” said Kristy. “I’ll bear that in mind. I had no idea that legal counsel could be so full service. Do you do this for all your clients?”
He leaned an arm against the door jamb, a glint in his pale blue eyes. “Technically,” he said, “you’re not my client. Your aunt was.”
“And what does that make us?” drawled Kristy.
“Absolutely nothing. Unless you’re going to tell me you’re also my father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate.”
“Yeah… no. Nice job with the Spaceballs quote, though.”
“Thanks.” He regarded her curiously. “You like Spaceballs?”
“Are you kidding?” She’d had a huge thing for Bill Pullman. Not to mention the scene where Daphne Zuniga gunned down an entire platoon of storm troopers. “There’s only one man who would dare to give me the raspberry!”
“Jack?” a female voice called. “What are you—oh.”
The woman on the sidewalk looked like she’d stepped straight out of an Ann Taylor catalog. Her knee length skirt was A-line, with a flower print; her matching shell and cardigan were one of those shades of beige with pretension, like ecru, or taupe; her mid-blond hair was cut neatly to just above the shoulder. Her earrings were pearls.
Kristy was suddenly very aware of her own unkempt hair, her ancient tank top, her drooping yoga pants.
It didn’t help that the woman was staring at her as though she’d just seen a UFO.
“Look who turned up,” Kristy’s lawyer called down, in the completely oblivious way of men.
The woman managed a strangled, “Mmm.”
She really had to get a different internal soundtrack. She was thoroughly sick of the B-52s.
Well, there went anonymity. She should have known it was too good to last. And that a guy like that would already be taken. Goodbye, little dream, goodbye. She’d had her brief moment of fun and now it was over.
“Well, nice to meet you,” said Kristy brightly, all but shoving Jack out the door. “Wouldn’t want to keep you. Bye-ee!”
She gave a little wave to the woman on the street and closed the door. They did say the good ones were always taken. Besides, she’d given up one night stands long ago, and anything here would have to be a stand of a limited variety. She didn’t intend to stay long enough for a full-blown fling.
All the same, she couldn’t help but envy the Ann Taylor woman as she watched the two disappear around the side of the house. It would have been nice to have someone to go home to, nice to have someone to snuggle up against. She could picture them, in the little carriage house, all clean and renovated, making dinner together, cuddling up on the couch, watching Spaceballs. Whereas she had a dilapidated old house that smelled of eau de cat.
They did say that you reap what you sow. Kristy made a face. Apparently, she had reaped Frankenstein’s country house and a dinner of milk and Reeses’.
The Reeses’. Her groceries. Oh, crap. She had left them in the front seat of the car. The milk was probably crème brulee by now.
Kristy carefully opened the front door, looking around to make sure the lawyer and his girlfriend were well gone. The sky had turned a very unattractive shade of yellowish gray. With the clouds drawing together behind the hills in the not so distant distance, the whole set-up was beginning to feel uncomfortably gothic.
“What evil stalks the halls of Tarrant House?” Kristy demanded dramatically, and then snuck a guilty glance over her shoulder.
Nope. No sign of the lawyer. Phew.
That was all she needed, to have him and his girlfriend see her talking to herself. She’d already made a massive fool of herself in front of him once today. And by once, she meant more like four or five times. Catch her talking to herself, too, and he’d have her declared mentally unfit and out of the building before you could say “Elvis”.
Not that she was sure why anyone would want to say “Elvis”.
It was official. She was losing it. Just like Elvis. Only without the sparkly jumpsuit.
“Stop being an idiot,” she told herself, and went to collect her groceries.
* * *
“Do you know who that is?” Abbie hissed.
She set off speed-walking stiff-legged down the path towards the carriage house. Jack had to lope after her to keep up, which was pretty impressive, considering that Abbie was over a foot shorter than he was. For a short person, she moved fast.
His legs protested the extra movement. Okay, maybe the two extra miles had been a bit much. Not to mention lifting a reasonably rounded woman out a window. Jack grinned at the memory.
“She definitely wasn’t what I expected,” said Jack.
He’d certainly never expected to meet Miss Ada’s heir butt first. Even leaving that aside, his mental image of Miss Ada’s niece had been a lot less—just a lot less. Less sweaty, less sassy, less curvy. He’d known, from the birth records, that she was thirty-one. He’d pictured someone middle-aged and middle management.
“Of course not!” said Abbie, with surprisingly vehemence, her neat beige pumps kicking up gravel. “Who would?”
Jack glanced at her sideways. He’d suspected Abbie wasn’t going to take the heir’s appearance well. As secretary of the Junior Board of the PFHS, she’d been the primary voice in the “But Miss Ada promised!”
Jack had finally done the mature thing, put his hands over his ears, and told her he wasn’t listening. There were some benefits to friends one had known since fourth grade.
Jack snuck a sideways glance at his oldest friend. She didn’t look furious. She looked more… amazed.
“I did think she’d at least email before showing up,” said Jack. “But I guess that would have been too easy.”
Abbie reached the carriage house door before he did and stood aside to let him unlock it with the key he kept under the matt.
She gave Jack a funny look. “You knew she was coming?’
“I certainly hoped she would. It’s a good thing she’s turned up. I was beginning to be afraid I’d have to track down the next next of kin.”
Abbie set her back down neatly on an old club chair with tattered plaid upholstery. “Are we talking about the same person?”
There’d only been one other person on Miss Ada’s stoop. “Kristy Green. Ada Tarrant’s niece. The one who inherited the house.”
The Sunday Times was still on the couch, the tell-tale page sitting there, face up. Jack bundled the sections together into a clumsy pile and dropped them on the floor.
“That’s Miss Ada’s heir,” said Abbie, sounding like someone had punched her in the gut. “Kristy Green. Green?”
“Miss Ada’s sister begat a daughter named Lissa who married a guy named Green.” Jack kicked the Times under the cocktail table, a battered reject from his parents’ house. Swedish-Not-So-Modern, Marissa had called it. “Can I get you something to drink?”
Abbie shook her head no. She seated herself in the place vacated by the paper. She did it as she did everything, neatly, efficiently, positioning the cushion just so. “Seriously, Jack, don’t you read anything other than the ABA Journal?”
Jack padded across the room towards the kitchen. Opening the fridge, he pulled out a can of Coke. “Sometimes I glance at the Financial Times. Sure I can’t get you one of these?”
Abbie was still shaking her head, although Jack didn’t think it was in reference to the soda. “I can’t believe you sometimes. Under which rock have you been living?”
Jack toasted his oldest friend with his Coke. “Nice grammatical construction there.” He took a long swig of his Coke. Mmm, chemicals. Nothing like ‘em.
“Her name isn’t Green. That was Kristy Dare, Jack.” When he failed to react, Abbie repeated, more forcibly, “Kristy Dare.”
“No. I’m pretty sure it’s Green.” He should know. He’d spoken to every Kristy Green in the greater LA area trying to track her down. “Dare… Wait. Wasn’t she some kind of pop star?”
Abbie mimed banging her head against her hands.
“What?” said Jack, dropping onto the far side of the couch. “Not all of us can be hip and with it like you.”
Abbie looked down at her cardigan and knee-length flowered skirt. “I’m a librarian, Jack. I’m the antithesis of hip.”
Jack raised his Coke to her. “Chess team forever.”
That’s how they’d become friends, back in high school, in the epicenter of nerdery. He’d had an easier time of than Abbie had. It had helped to be a guy and tall. His height had gotten him a spot on the basketball team and his big brother’s reputation had done the rest. No one was messing with Sam Vallenti’s little brother.
Abbie had written poetry, he remembered, in a notebook with elaborate quotations in curly script on the cover. She’d been the editor of the school lit mag, all floaty scarves and ankle-length skirts. He remembered sitting with her on the bleachers of the empty gym, Abbie in a too-long skirt and too-big sweater, with bangs down over her eyes, talking about what they were going to do when they got out of Philips’ Falls. Abbie was going to go to New York and take the publishing world by storm, quaffing cocktails with Normal Mailler and exchanging witticisms with the staff of the New Yorker. Jack was going to be a second Mr. Smith, sweeping clean the corruption of DC and lending new probity to the Senate.
“It’s so you,” Abbie said. “A celebrity in your backyard and you didn’t even know it.”
“Or so you say.”
Jack stretched out on his side of the couch, settling his elbow into a spot worn soft by hours of identical elbow placement. He’d spent a lot of time on this couch over the past year. Sometimes, when the insomnia got too bad, he slept on it.
If Abbie wanted to believe there was a celebrity in his backyard, he was good with that. As long as it kept her off other topics.
“Aren’t librarians supposed to be above such things?”
“The library orders the magazines,” said Abbie defensively. “It’s hard not to look at them when I’m shelving them.”
“Uh-huh,” said Jack.
Abbie glanced over her shoulder, towards the main house. A pretty useless gesture, given that there were multiple walls in the way. “It’s sort of fascinating, in its own strange way. All these peoples’ lives, splayed out there on double page spreads.”
Somehow, Jack didn’t think she meant that quite the way it sounded.
On the other hand, given the subject matter, maybe she did. Jack dredged his memory for the lingering debris of pop culture. “Kristy Dare…. Was she the one having a lesbian affair with some DJ?”
“No, that was Lindsey Lohan.” Abbie spoke with absolute authority. So much for just shelving the magazines. “Kristy Dare was the one who tried to pole dance with a python on stage.”
Kristy Dare. Jack had the phantom image of a movie poster, a woman, no, not a woman, a girl, her hair cut to just above the shoulder and very sleek, posing in a string bikini with one hand on her hip, in front of a backdrop of exploding cars. She’d looked sassy and smug and very, very air-brushed.
The woman he’d pulled from the window was older, her hair darker and longer, her body fuller, but the expression was exactly the same, half-challenge, half-smirk. So was the pose, hip cocked, ready for trouble. Or ready to cause trouble.
So? A lot of people had brown hair and lopsided smiles. Abbie’s crazy theory was still crazy. A Hollywood star in Philips’ Falls? Yeah, right. “She was in a bunch of movies, too, wasn’t she?”
“Mostly teen stuff and a couple of campy action movies. Some of them weren’t bad,” Abbie admitted grudgingly. “I mean, for what they were. But don’t you realize what this means?” She gave a little bounce on her couch cushion.
“Means?” Jack echoed.
The ads for that movie had been all over that summer, on the sides of buses, in the T, on phone booths. He remembered passing the poster in the lobby of the movie theatre off Boston Common. Media for the masses, Marissa had called it. What had they been going to see that night? Jack couldn’t remember. That had been years ago already, more years than he cared to count.
Like his life in Boston, the life he had shared with Marissa. There were times when it felt impossibly distant, like a story told about someone else.
The divorce had been final for almost a year.
“—the house. Jack? Hello?”
Jack shook his head, trying to clear it. “What? Sorry. Wool-gathering.”
Abbie was watching him with her concerned face, the one that usually preceded an invitation to “talk about”. He wanted to “talk about it” just about as much as he wanted to be hung upside down and flayed with pointy sticks. “Have you heard a word I said?”
Jack made a show of yawning and stretching. “Sorry. Long run.”
“Anyway”—Abbie let it go—“What I was saying was that this couldn’t be better. What would Kristy Dare do with a house in Philips’ Falls? She certainly doesn’t need the money. So there’s no reason she shouldn’t turn it over to the historical society!”
“I wouldn’t get your hopes up, Abb. You don’t know.” They didn’t know that she was Kristy Dare. Although, if she was…..
Jack laughed silently to himself.
“What’s so funny?”
He couldn’t very well tell her that, if she was right, he’d groped a movie star. A gentleman never groped and told. “If you’re right, I got the wrong end of the stick. I thought she was down and out. I didn’t realize she was a big, fancy movie star.”
“Some of them dress like they’ve just come off a bread line,” said Abbie, “but it probably costs more than my house.”
“Probably,” said Jack. Damn. This was all he’d needed, Abbie on his back about the PFHS again, just because Miss Ada’s niece bore a passing resemblance to a Hollywood star. Outside, the sky growled, as if in warning. No rain yet, but if the thunder was anything to go by, once it hit, it was going to be one hell of a storm. “It sounds like it’s going to pour.”
Abbie took the hint. “I should probably get home before I get drenched.” She stood, shaking out the wrinkles in her skirt, fussing with the bottom of her sweater.
“And I need to shower,” said Jack, standing, too, in the hopes of speeding her along. Besides, he smelled like a locker room. “I smell like a locker room.”
“You don’t smell,” said Abbie automatically. She leaned down to pick up her bag and said, with studied casualness, “Any interest in a movie? My DVR keeps telling me it’s overfed and I need to watch something.”
Jack raised a brow. “On a school night?”
“It’s summer,” Abbie pointed out. “The library doesn’t open until ten. I get to sleep in. We could even watch a Kristy Dare movie.”
“The law doesn’t sleep,” said Jack. “I have to be in the office bright and early tomorrow.”
“It’s your office,” Abbie said gently. “Tell yourself you’ll be in late.”
Jack shook his head. “Lots of stuff to go through.”
To her credit, Abbie refrained from arguing. Hoisting her bag up on her shoulder, she said, “Dinner Wednesday?” She’d taken to making him dinner on Wednesday, to practice, she said.
Jack sketched a thumbs up. “Wouldn’t miss it.”
Crossing the room, he opened the door for her. Abbie gave him a peck of a kiss on the cheek, and he thought he was home clear. Until Abbie paused, with one hand on the door handle. She had the concerned face on again.
Oh, shit, thought Jack. Here it comes.
“Jack…. I saw the Times.”
Jack could feel his face stiffen.
Abbie made a tentative gesture towards him. “I’m really sorry.”
“Don’t be.” Jack managed a shrug. “Shit happens.”
And wasn’t that a fitting epitaph for his marriage.
Abbie toyed with one of the pearl buttons on her sweater. “You know, if you want to talk….”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” said Jack firmly. Softening his voice, he said, “Thanks, Abbie. It’s a very nice thought and all that sort of thing, but—different chromosomes, okay?”
He could tell she was hurt, but there was nothing he could do about it. He wasn’t prepared to sit here and ritually disembowel himself, not even for his oldest friend. Besides, he was fine. Totally, completely, A-okay fine.
Abbie cocked her head. “Okay, well, if you change your mind about that movie, you know where to find me.”
The door closed behind her. Peace at last. He knew he should shower—it hadn’t been just a clever excuse—but instead he kicked off his sneakers and padded back across the room to the couch. The Sunday paper was where he had dropped it, on the floor, under the cocktail table. Slowly, Jack picked it up.
Vows. Sunday, August 6.
It wasn’t a popular weekend for weddings. The June rush was long over. There were only three pages’ worth of couples, interspersed with large ads. Not that he had to hunt around. Whoever determined these things had placed them right at the top of the first page: Marissa Combs and Hunter Lowell III.
It was the usual puffery. The bride, 32, had attended Columbia and Harvard Law; the groom, 40, had attended Stanford and Harvard Business School. She was an associate at the Boston law firm of Pharse & Maquerie. He was a managing director at Bain Capital.
And there it was, the very last line: “The bride’s previous marriage ended in divorce.”
Seven years together, dismissed in one bland sentence.
Marissa looked happy in the picture. Softer. Maybe it was only the blurring effect of a picture reduced to black and white ink, but Jack didn’t think so.
In the picture, she was leaning a little, head tilted towards Hunter. What kind of name was Hunter? She’d never leaned on Jack. He remembered her sitting ramrod straight, laying out the reasons they weren’t working, the reasons it was time to call it quits. He knew she must have smiled at him, back in the beginning, back when everything was still good, but never like that, never the way she was smiling at Hunter. Those lips, so soft and relaxed in the photo, had been perpetually pressed in a tight line during that last year together.
They’d been bad for each other; he knew that. She’d made him as unhappy as he’d made her. His parents had always claimed that when you get together young, you change and grow together. He and Marissa were proof positive of the opposite; they’d been sharing the same house, the same bed, even the same profession, but they’d grown in opposite directions, until they’d ended so far apart that no amount of fond nostalgia could bridge the gap.
He hoped she was happy with her Hunter. Okay, maybe not quite that. But he didn’t want her to be unhappy. They’d loved each other once. That had to count for something.
He saluted the photo. “Live long and prosper.”
Not that she would have appreciated the reference. Marissa had been politely perplexed by Star Trek. She’d never seen the point of Spaceballs.
“There’s only one man who would dare to give me the raspberry!”
Abbie was smoking crack. If that woman in Miss Ada’s house was a rock star, Jack was eating his gym shorts. Fine, there was a certain superficial resemblance. And there was the weird coincidence of the first names.
His laptop was sitting on the dining room table—which was also the kitchen table, given that the kitchen was separated from the living room only by a waist-high counter. Jack unplugged it from its power cord and carried it back to the couch. He typed “Kristy Dare” into the Google search bar.
Right up top were a whole row of thumbnail images: a very young Kristy Dare looking wholesome and all American, smiling modestly at the camera; Kristy Dare with her hair dyed blonde sticking out her chest in a painted on evening gown; Kristy Dare half-blotto with a glass in either hand, sticking out her tongue at the camera; Kristy Dare, brunette again, in a dress made of mesh and string, gyrating on a table.
Kick him in the crotch and call him Edna, Abbie had been right.
There she was, in every possible incarnation, from glamor shots to candids, movie still and videos, snapped in a variety of flattering and unflattering poses. Her hair went from platinum to red to black; her arms were stick thin in one picture, rounded around in another. But it was the same person. Jack had zero doubt. The woman he’d found stuck in Ada Tarrant’s parlor window was Hollywood icon, Kristy Dare.
Underneath the image gallery, the first site to pop up was Wikipedia, and, below that, IMDB. Jack clicked on the Wikipedia entry.
Kristy Dare is an American actress and pop singer. Born and raised in California, Dare began performing as a child, landing acting roles in stage productions and television shows. An early stint in the Mickey Mouse Club led to the popular Disney series Lakota Dakota, about a teen pop star/secret agent. Spinning off from her identity as Katie Dakota, Dare signed with Live Records in 1997 and released her debut album Shooting Star in 1999. Shooting Star established her as a prominent figure in mainstream popular music and popular culture, followed by a prolific film career and a much-publicized personal life.
The entry went on in more detail, with headings like “Early Career and the Mickey Mouse Club”, “The Lakota Dakota Years”, “Shooting Star”, “Independent movies and Career Interruptions”.
They had the famous picture of her onstage, in black corset, entwined with a python—although it looked more like she was tripping over it. Her face looked very young beneath the heavy black stage make-up.
She would have been, wouldn’t she? If the dates were right, the girl cozying up to the python in front of an audience of fifteen thousand fans was all of nineteen.
Yes, folks, it was official. He’d groped a Hollywood icon. Who happened to be Miss Ada Tarrant’s niece. And his new landlady.
Miss Ada must have known. Why in the hell hadn’t she ever mentioned it? Oh, by the way, my primary legatee is a teen idol. Be sure to look her up under her stage name because it will take you six f-ing months to track her down under the real one.
Maybe she hadn’t known. Maybe she hadn’t thought it was important. It was hard to tell what Miss Ada thought or didn’t think; her opinions were both firm and ideosyncratic. Maybe she’d just thought it would be amusing, her Hollywood niece descending on Philips’ Falls.
Yeah, the same way she’d thought it would be amusing to tell everyone on the Historical Society board that if they were very, very nice to her, maybe she’d leave them the house. And then she went and left the house to her Hollywood star niece instead.
If Miss Ada weren’t dead, he’d be distinctly tempted to do her in himself.
Jack slammed into the shower, feeling distinctly out of charity with the world. He rubbed Head & Shoulders through his hair, thinking dark thoughts about eccentric old ladies and Hollywood princesses. There he’d been, trying to make her feel better about the size of Miss Ada’s legacy, trying to think of ways to leverage the value of her property for her, and she’d probably been laughing up her sleeve the whole time. No wonder she’d looked funny when Jack told her Miss Ada had left her three thousand bucks. That was probably the price of a pair of shoes for her.
Jack remembered the black plastic flip-flops. Or not. Unless those were special designer flip-flops hand-crafted by anorexic fashion models from only the purest plastic, colored with dye from the black hearts of Hollywood executives. God only knew.
Well, that explained all the unanswered letters and emails.
What really amazed him was that she’d gone to the trouble of coming to check out the house for herself, instead of just sending a flunky.
This had just opened a whole new can of worms for him.
Clean, but still steaming, Jack pulled on a pair of old boxers and a fresh t-shirt and wandered back into the living room. Little Miss Dare had been busy in his absence. Across the garden, all the lights in the big house had been turned on. The place was lit up like Boylston Street on a Saturday night.
Well, he guessed Hollywood stars didn’t have to worry about their electric bills.
Outside, the rain had started coming down. He could hear the patter against the brick patio. Lightning arced through the sky, and the trees shook their branches as if in fear as the wind rose and the rain came sluicing down. In the upstairs bathroom window, he could see a woman, in silhouette.
Before all the lights went out.
For Chapter Four, just click here….