"A Spearfish Lake Story"
Jennifer helped Blake clear off the breakfast dishes as Josh and Tiffany headed out of the driveway. "Iím glad we got that over with," she said.
"I donít think you told them anything that they donít already know," he observed.
"It needed to be said," she agreed. "If thatís what it takes for them to back off and assess things somewhat, and then act on it, thatís what it takes. I donít think we laid that difficult of a job on them."
"So, whatís on the docket for today?" he said, turning on the tap in the sink to rinse the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher.
"Not a lot," she said. "I want to get over to Motherís and spend some time with Tara before she heads back. And, we need to get some rehearsal time in. Then, youíve got play practice this evening."
"Letís do the rehearsal this morning, while weíre fresh," Blake suggested. "That way, you can take whatever time you need at your motherís, and if you run into the evening, it wonít matter."
"Sounds good. Do you want me to drop in on play practice again?"
"No, I donít think so," he replied. "I mean, you can if you want, but weíre going to do the full run-through tonight, and frankly, the kids who havenít gotten the message yet are never going to get it. I appreciate your perking Ado Annie up, though."
"No problem," she said. "Youíve got to have fun with that part, and she wasnít having fun. What do you want to start out with?"
"I think weíd better do the show stuff," he said. "I know weíve got the studio stuff first, but thatís pretty much on disk, already, and we havenít worked on the show stuff much."
They rehearsed virtually every day they were at home, usually for at least a couple hours but sometimes all day. Sometimes, it was just tuning, trying out songs, sometimes writing them on the fly. Sometimes it was finger exercises, instrument practice; sometimes it was serious recording, and just now, it was preparation for a tour. Both Jennifer and Blake had long before reached the point where they were tired of travel and tours, but it was part of the business, and they accepted that.
They were going to be gone for a while on this one.
Blake mentally reviewed their schedule. Next weekend, theyíd have to take off for Nashville, for a long-scheduled studio session. In years past, these had been a pain in the backside. Blake usually backed her up on stage anymore, and occasionally added a harmony, but the more elaborate studio recordings meant having to use studio musicians, and they got picky if her "backman" had to play with them. With Jennyís slow change in her recording style from pure country to more balladsy, bluesy stuff, they had turned to doing the basic recordings in their basement studio, and taking the cuts to Nashville to have the more elaborate backup tracks cut. It meant having to ride herd on the process, but that was better than having to teach the studio musicians to play what they already had down to a science.
But they had recorded far more than had ever gotten pressed. Much of it was just workups, but occasionally a jewel emerged. Her last album had actually been a compilation of such experimental works, all recorded in the basement. Titled At Home With Jenny Easton, it had some more of the direction she wanted to move in. Her recording company hadnít liked it at all, so it had been produced by Jenny Easton productions. It hadnít done that much on the country charts, but it had gone over well on the pop charts, which was just fine with Jenny, if less so to her recording company.
The new album, titled Fencerow, was going to be pure country, going back to Jennyís roots in the business, and a separate voice track brought in on CD just wasnít going to work. Everything was worked out, and they pretty well knew where they wanted to go, but a week of hard work was going to be needed in the studio to wrap it up. In the last few days, theyíd concentrated on the album stuff, but there were other things going on, too, and they needed to work on them.
As soon as they were done with the recording, they were going to have to go over and do Grand Ole Opry. Of course, she was going to get stuck with having to do her old trademark, Smoke-Filled Room, a real honky tonk, cheatiní, and driviní pickups country song they could have e-mailed in from Spearfish Lake theyíd done it so often Ė which was why it needed practice, to try and keep it fresh. The other one was new, a cover of Dennis OíLearyís Lonesome Pine Ė much more the type of music she was moving toward, but it was by a Nashville songwriter and his stuff could be considered country by any aficionado. "We should give The Star Spangled Banner a run-through," Jennifer suggested. "Iím going to have to sing that at Talladega, the night after the Opry."
" I guess Iíd forgotten that. I suppose they want it a cappella."
"Of course," she said. "What do you think, old-time Jenny Easton, or straight?"
" Straight, I think," he said, turning on the dishwasher. "Thereís no way you can make it sound like Fever, anyway."
" Iíll be happy if I can keep it from sounding like Smoke-Filled Room."
But Jenny Easton Productions had been a success. From Talladega, theyíd have to head to LA for a week of interiors and some looping for Wonderful Winter World. Theyíd started out Jenny Easton Productions by shooting the annual Christmas television specials, and the variety shows were getting to be a holiday standby. Much of WWW, as they called it, was shot in Spearfish Lake, although anonymously. There had even been scenes from their own living room, and no one could ever accuse WWW of being anything but squeaky clean. Theyíd moved on to other things, but had continued with the Christmas special Ė in fact, before they went to London they would be in LA to work on it. It would be the first time in months that they had been in their apartment in LA, and they were just as happy about it. But that meant several songs that would have to get practiced.
On top of those, there was a list of regulars that they had to do for three nights in London, before they headed off to Italy for three weeks on a movie set. Jenny rarely acted in any but her own films anymore, since she required full script approval as part of the deal. The agent sheíd canned years ago hadnít been happy unless he could get her into an R-rated film, and it went against Jenniferís grain. She much preferred doing family entertainment, something someone could take their kids to see, and sheíd observed that most of the dirty, violent stuff blew through fast and was gone, while a good family film had staying power Ė and were usually cheaper to produce, so were more profitable. Sheíd spent a lot of time over a dozen years trying to put those R-rated losers behind her.
Home would seem good after six weeks gone, and the trout fishing should just about be peaking, Blake thought.
Jennifer backed the Chrysler out of the garage, and followed Blakeís Jeep toward town, where he had some errands to run. It was a bright, cheerful, sunshiny day; there was a warm breeze blowing, and the ice on the lake was dark and wet, with visible cracks. If it stayed nice like that, there might even be open water before they had to leave on the tour.
She was looking forward to the tour, even if it meant six weeks of being Jenny Easton most of the day. Sheíd never have been able to have managed it without Blake. The strength and the companionship that he gave her had made it possible for her to live her strange double life all these years. While they had a relationship that they had grown comfortable with, she realized that almost anyone else would have considered it strange indeed, so it was just as well that they kept it quiet.
But, at times, it had been hard. When theyíd first started living in Spearfish Lake, Blake had been her personal manager, her bodyguard, an employee. A close friend, but an employee, and that had kept her mother off her back. But, over more than a decade, anyone who knew them at all could observe that their relationship had become far closer than that, although they were careful to be vague about the details.
And, theyíd been vague about the fact that Blake wasnít an employee anymore, and hadnít been for some time. It had actually been a sticking point with them for a while, mostly because Blake had wanted to quit taking money from a friend, and she felt that sheíd owed him too much not to. Jenny Easton Productions had been the solution to several problems, but she never mentioned that it had solved that problem, too. Blake had agreed to accept nearly a half share in the production company in lieu of wages. She held a slight majority Ė Blake had insisted on it Ė and Mike, Phil and Brandy had token shares to fill out a board. Blake literally hadnít had two nickels to rub together when heíd gone to work for her, but Jenny Easton Productions had made him a moderately rich man if he ever decided to cash out.
That was beside the point, and she knew it. After this much time, visibly this close, the old excuses just didnít hold water anymore, like sheíd told Blake earlier. It had served as a cover story when Blake had been in the closet, but even that wasnít an issue anymore; there wasnít anything there to cover up, at least as far as Spearfish Lake was concerned. There was an issue out of the past, of course, if it got to the tabloids, which is why Blake kept a low profile outside of Spearfish Lake, just being her anonymous backup guy, but Jenny had a reputation for keeping her personal life on a very low profile and out of the public eye, and that went back well before Blake had even come on the scene.
Really, the only remaining issue wasnít Blake. It was her, and even now she and Blake rarely talked up front with each other about it, but talked around the issue. How she could have wound up with such a sweet and gentle and understanding guy like him for a friend was beyond her imagination. He probably was the best thing that had ever happened to her, and she knew it.
As Blake had said earlier, "I suppose we could get married." Well, they could if they had to, but each of them was a little leery of letting something like a wedding license upset a delicately balanced relationship. It wasnít as if they had to be married, after all.
Jennifer shook her head. The problem was really with her mother, after all. If she felt she could sit down and explain everything to her, she was sure she would understand. But, she couldnít bring herself to risk it Ė the habit of secrecy was just too strong. It was like that time in bed with Blake, years before. It had been wonderful, but after a lifetime of holding back, she couldnít quite bring herself to risk being disappointed by trying it again. Abstinence was, if nothing else, stability.
For the last decade, she and Blake had been able to sort of hide behind Brandy and Phil. As long as they hadnít gotten married, Jennifer could use them as an example that people didnít need to be married. Well, now that theyíd gotten married, that wouldnít serve as an excuse any longer.
She almost wished that she could avoid her mother this afternoon, because the subject was sure to come up. Not directly, of course; her mother knew that she was touchy about the issue, so thereíd be, well, not sly remarks, but implications that couldnít be avoided.
At least Tara would be touchy about the marriage issue, too. Her marriage had not been a success; the guy had been a jerk, and she was well rid of him. But, she had a tendency to attract other jerks, and Jennifer wished that there was some way that her younger sister could be half as lucky with men as Brandy had been, half as lucky as she herself had been.
Jennifer was a little surprised to find Brandy at her motherís house talking with Tara when she walked in. "I figured you newlyweds would have been trying to wreck the bed," she smiled.
"The only wrecking involved was the house," Brandy snorted. "God, what a mess. Phil and I were all damn morning on it."
Jennifer reflected that her younger sister was a good deal coarser than she was. It must have been all those mining camps sheíd been in over the years, while Jennifer and Blake had worked hard for years to help give Jenny a very demure image to overcome those early raunchy films, and it spilled over. "It was a pretty good party," she agreed. "And I thought the wedding went off very well."
"Oh, I had a good time," Brandy agreed. "Iíve never gotten to too many parties like that. Oh, out on the site, usually when we wrapped, sometimes weíd break out the bottles and celebrate being able to blow whatever pop stand we were at, but itís not the same thing."
"We donít have very many parties like that, either," Jennifer said. "Oh, the last few years, weíve gotten together for the finishersí party down at the Veterans hall, or maybe a handful of us will get together and have a few beers and jam a little. But yesterday was something special."
" I donít mind a party," Brandy smiled. "I have to admit that it did get stirred up a bit by some blonde guitar picker and her friends. Iím just glad we finally ran out of beer, or it would have gone on all night. Iím just surprised you didnít do Brandy, Youíre A Fine Girl."
"Oh, I was working up to it when Tara walked in," Jennifer smiled, "Iím just surprised Blake and Shovelhead didnít do it. Thatís a guy song, after all."
"I donít think itís a guy song," Tara smiled. "You could do it."
"Iíve done it," Jennifer replied. "Iíve even done it on stage. I had to quit doing it on stage because I kept thinking that some little sister of mine would kill me if she heard about it, and that got me cracking up when I was trying to sing. But I still think itís a guy song."
"I just know I got tired of it while I was still in high school," Brandy snorted. "Then, all those years I lived with Phil without getting married, that ĎWhat a good wife you would beí sort of ground at me." She shrugged. "I guess I get to find out, now."
"Are you going to stay living where youíre at now?" Tara asked, scratching at a ring in her nose.
"Donít know, yet," Brandy replied. "For a while, anyway. I suspect itís going to be too small a place if weíre both home full time."
"Whereís Mom, anyway?" Jennifer asked.
"Watching the store while Dad makes a couple deliveries," Tara announced. "He doesnít seem to want to retire, does he?"
"I guess not," Brandy commented. "I know he always said the couple months he spent watching us after he retired from the Army was about all the sitting around he could take. Actually, I think he had about all of us he could take."
"I agreed with him," Jennifer smiled. "I was about nine, I think, and I thought you two were a couple of little brats."
"As I look back on it, I suspect we were," Brandy agreed. "The Army never prepared Dad for dealing with us."
Tara shook her head; huge earrings jingled. "I donít remember that at all," she replied. "I guess I was too little. I just remember him working at the store. I mean, I know we lived in Germany, but I donít have any clear memory of it."
"It was a long time ago," Jennifer told her. "Weíve all changed, even since the last time we were all together. I canít even remember when that was."
"Itís been at least ten years," Tara said, after thinking about it. "Brandy, it would have had to have been while you were still in college, maybe at Christmas."
"Yeah, itís been at least that long," Brandy agreed. "Actually, I think it was that year that Phil and I were in Colorado that we came home for Christmas, so it would have to have been twelve years ago. I know Jennifer was living back here by then."
"We might have a chance at it this summer," Jennifer said. "Danny is supposed to be back sometime, and Garth would have been here this weekend if his little boy hadnít taken sick. Tara, if you could make it, maybe we could break the string."
"Yeah," Brandy agreed. "Come on up for a few days, and bring that boyfriend of yours."
Both Jennifer and Brandy could feel Tara cringe at the words. Tara looked very suspiciously at the both of them, started to say something, thought better of it, looked sheepish, tried to say something again, and couldnít bring herself to say it. Jennifer and Brandy exchanged a brief glance; if looks could talk, they would have said, What the hell?
"Look," Tara said, dropping her voice. "Please donít tell Mom. I know Iíve got to tell her sometime, but I canít get up the guts. Maybe you can help me figure out a way to help soften the blow."
Jennifer could feel her fear, taste it. "What?" she asked quietly.
"I donít know how to say this," Tara said. "Even to you two."
"Just say it," Brandy offered. "We wonít tell."
Tara looked down, almost crying. "I know you think that Iíve stayed away because you think that Iím ashamed because I left my husband to live with a boyfriend, and we got divorced."
"If thereís anybody who knows anything about taking heat for living with their boyfriends, itís us," Brandy said, trying to comfort her sister, but both she and Jennifer could tell that there was more.
"Itís not that," Tara said, nearly crying now. "Itís not that at all."
"What is it?" Jennifer asked gently.
"My boyfriend is actually my girlfriend," she spat out desperately.
Brandy and Jennifer exchanged glances again, and this time the looks said, Oh, shit!
Jennifer drew a deep breath, hoping that Brandy would see the slight shake of her head and get the message, Not now. She knew she had to think fast. Brandy knew about Blake, of course, and it was an obvious parallel. And, Brandy had known enough not to tell her mother about him, after all these years. But was this the time to tell Tara? Would it ever be the time?
She got up, went over to Tara, and put her arm around her. Old instincts flowed through her. She was the big sister, after all; she had to be the leader, the one to take charge. "Tara," she began. "First, I want you to know that your secret is safe with us. You donít have to hide it from us, and you donít have to feel alone with us."
Taraís tears were rolling now. "But how could you understand?"
"Stop and think about it, Tara," Jennifer said gently, trying to keep her words simple and get through to her sister. "Think about the business that Iím in. Itís not that uncommon. People in my business are used to it. It goes with the territory. Believe me, I understand it a lot more than you think."
Now Brandy came over to her sisterís other side and put her hand on her shoulder. "I didnít see it as much as Jennifer, in what I did," she added, "But I saw enough to know that itís nothing to be ashamed of."
"I try to tell myself that," Tara sobbed. "But, God, I canít tell Mom."
Jennifer looked over at Brandy. "Any idea how long before sheís going to be home?"
Brandy shrugged. "Sheís been gone a while."
"Letís take Tara over to your house and look at your new wallpaper samples."
"What wallpaper samples?"
"Or, something. We donít want Mom to walk in right now."
" Oh, those wallpaper samples," Brandy said. "Come on Tara, letís go."
The three of them headed out to the Chrysler, and Jennifer got behind the wheel. Just the minuteís break had done good; Tara had calmed down a little, and it gave Jennifer a moment to think about what she needed to say. Blake had obvious input, but was the time right? Heíd have to be part of any decision to come clean, and she couldnít bring it up without warning him. If he had to be brought into it, sheíd have to figure a way to get to him privately. This was a sister issue, after all, and there ought to be a better way to handle it than bringing Blake into it at all.
"Do we really want to go to my place?" Brandy asked as they pulled away from the curb. "I know Phil is home."
"Letís go over to my place," Jennifer suggested. "Blake is out running some errands."
"Youíve been together for a while, I take it," Brandy said as she drove down the street.
Tara hung her head. "Since . . . since before I left Roger," she admitted.
"Are you comfortable with it? Happy with it?" Brandy asked. "Or is it one ongoing hassle, like it was with Roger?"
"Itís better than it ever was with Roger," Tara replied, a little more firmly, now. "It just seems . . . right. But Iíve been so scared of what Mom and Dad would think, what you would think."
"Hey, sis," Brandy said, "If youíre happy with it, it doesnít matter a whole hell of a lot what we think. You do what you have to do to be happy in this world."
Jennifer smiled inwardly. So thatís where Brandy was headed. Great minds must think alike. "Brandyís right," she said. "If youíre happy with it, then weíre happy for you. We donít have to understand it, but it doesnít matter so long as youíre happy."
"But . . . but . . . "
"Trust us," Brandy smiled. "Weíre your big sisters, after all."
"Absolutely," Jennifer agreed. "We probably understand it a lot better than you think, but you donít have to believe that. What you do have to believe is that weíre on your side."
"I . . . I canít believe it."
"That, I understand," Jennifer smiled. "Now, Iím just guessing, but Iíll bet youíve been so scared of this for so long that itís going to take a while for you to realize that Brandy and I mean what we say. Weíre going to go over to the house, Iím going to make us a cup of cocoa, unless youíd like a drink instead, and weíre going to try to make you understand that weíre with you, sis."
"But, what about Mom?"
"Weíll cross that bridge when we get to it," Brandy said. "Itís up to you if you want to tell her today, or next week, or ever. But, if you want, weíll be with you if you need us."
"I really think youíre making too big an issue of it," Jennifer said, signaling for the turn onto Point Drive. "After all, I think Mom and Dad have gotten used to having kids who are a bit, uh, unconventional in their living arrangements."
"Yeah," Brandy agreed. "After all these years, Jenn and I have pretty well paved a path for you. I think Jenn is right. I think Mom and Dad will take it pretty well. Oh, Mom will continue to make remarks about wanting more grand kids, but she might even tone that down, which would be a favor to us. I havenít thought about it much, but I doubt if Iíll be contributing to the herd."
"Me, either," Jennifer agreed.
Tara smiled for the first time since sheíd made her announcement. "Somebody better get on the phone and tell Danny and Marsha to get cracking," she laughed.
Jennifer relaxed. This was going to be easier than she had thought. They were getting through to Tara, and without having to drag Blake into it at all. This was a sister issue, after all, and he probably wouldnít have been much help, the way things had turned.
Jennifer was waiting up for Blake, wearing a dressing gown when he got home from the play practice. "So, how did it go?" she asked.
"If half of the kids could remember a few simple lines, it would have gone a lot better," he replied. "How was your day?"
"Interesting," she replied coolly. "Can I get you anything?"
"Oh, a Coke or something," he said. "What happened?"
"Tara told Brandy and me that sheís in love with the girlfriend sheís living with."
Blake nodded. "That ranks as interesting, all right. I thought I sensed something was making her unhappy."
"She was scared to death to tell Mom and Dad," Jennifer reported, handing him a can. "Iím amazed she told us in the first place. It took us a long time to get her to believe that it was fine with us."
"Did she tell your folks?"
"After Brandy and I got her spirits perked up a little, we went over and told them."
"Howíd they take it?" he asked with concern. That was an announcement that hadnít gone over well with his own parents. He hadnít spoken with them in many years, as a result, and there was a sadnessthere that he still hadnít resolved. Jenniferís parents had filled in some of the hole that remained in his life, but it wasnít the same.
"Amazingly well," Jennifer smiled. "I mean, I figured theyíd take it well, a lot better than Tara had been expecting, but it went better than I could have dreamed. Mom threw her arms around her and said, ĎIím just sorry that you were afraid to tell us. You didnít have to be.í"
"Yes, she did have every right to be afraid," Blake said with a little pain that Jennifer could feel. "But it worked out. Iíd actually have been more concerned about your dad. Howíd he do?"
"He hugged her and said, ĎYour friend has got to be better than that jerk you were married to.í" Jennifer smiled. "Heíll be OK. I wasnít worried about Dad. Tara should have realized that theyíre used to some things that most people consider unconventional."
"Yeah, I suppose," he smiled. "Did you have to tell her about me?"
"I almost called you up. I know that Tara still doesnít quite believe how well everybodyís taking it, and I thought for a moment that it would help her understand why it doesnít bother Brandy and me. But then, I realized that wasnít the issue. I wouldnít have dragged you into it without warning you, in any case."
"Itís just as well. I figured that of you, but I wasnít sure if Brandy would let the cat out of the bag."
Jennifer shook her head. "You and I have been a couple for so long that I donít think Brandy thinks of you as bent, anymore."
He shrugged. "Well, I donít know myself."
Jennifer looked at him for a long time. Blake could see that she was trying to figure out how to say something. "Jennifer?" he asked.
"Blake," she said finally, "Do you think Iím bent?"
"I used to wonder if you might be, and didnít realize it," he admitted honestly. "Back before we moved here, I thought about setting you up once or twice, but I never got around to it. The time never seemed right. You were so unhappy in those days, I thought that might be your problem. Itís just as well. That wasnít what was bugging you, anyway."
"How about now?"
"I donít know," he said. "I doubt it, but I havenít thought about it in so long, Iím not sure I know what to think anymore. What do you think?"
She shook her head. "I donít think I am, but I donít know what I am. You remember that time, years ago, out in LA?"
She was sure he knew what she was talking about. "I couldnít forget it," he said with a knowing smile.
"Well, I used to think back before that happened that maybe I was a little bent. But, I never could talk to you about it. Then, that time was so wonderful, I pretty well figured out that I wasnít. But, Iíve always been a little scared to try it again. I mean, we were so up, well, it might be hard to re-create that."
Blake put down his Coke, and went over to put his arms around her. "Are you saying what I think youíre trying to say?"
"Yes, I think so," she said quietly, pulling back from him a little and untying the belt of the dressing gown. He could see that she was naked underneath it. "Iím still scared," she said, wrapping her arms around him again, "But I need to find out."