3. Any Port in a Storm
Anabelle Greeves, who was not, in fact, a hurricane, but exactly as she seemed, (a small town girl from the middle of nowhere who’d never been out of the country unless you counted Mexico, which she did not, who had escaped the ravages of hillbillitus when all other options had failed by literally floating away from Bumfuknoware with a large amount of balloons) felt a modicum of security in the fact that she looked decent, her laundry was clean, and being seated by the window, she had the perfect excuse for keeping her sunglasses firmly intact. And so she had passed the plane ride, and even the car ride that followed, with what she felt to be a modest attempt at travel finesse. But even twenty seven years of hermitism and obsessive reading couldn’t prepare her for the castle. Nor did the fact that she was wearing killer (as in, they made her want to die) fuck-me boots and tight jeans make her feel any more comfortable as they pulled up in front of the intimidating abode.
Surrounded by wild, rambling gardens, the stone and mortar walls cropped up from the greenery and grew into the gray English sky like ridiculous gargoyles leering down upon the pithy mortals. Towers and turrets loomed above her as she exited the shiny black car and stepped out onto the cobblestone drive and just in an all around way, there was the general air of gothic overstatement.
“Holy mother of god.” Anabelle mumbled beneath her breath as she looked up into the vast wall of winking windows that stretched above her. She privately imagined Dierdre must feel something similar upon arrival, and vowed to write it in.
“Theodore!” A gray haired man in a sweater vest and khaki slacks said from the top of the grand stairs, breaking through Anabelle’s reverie, and drawing the party’s attention to himself. Flanked by both lion statues and heavy oak doors, he looked like an accountant who had stepped into a time warp and came out the other side ruling the world.
“Father.” Theo answered, pulling up his luggage and handing it off to a waiting man who appeared from round the side of the bush. “Craegen.” Theo acknowledged the man with a small nod.
“Sir.” Craegen answered with a bow.
Anabelle stood, flappy eyed and gaping, like the yawning entrance to the what the fuck just happened cavern. She wasn’t quite sure what had just happened, but for some reason, it bothered her.
“See to our guests luggage.” The elder Mr. August instructed, turning to his invitees as they made their way up the steps. “Welcome! I hope you are hungry.”
After being shown to her room, (a stupendous number with a four poster bed and claw foot tub) there was barely time for Anabelle to poop, pee, brush her teeth, change into her sandals and not-so-passively inform the maid that she didn’t want to be waited on again for the entire length of her stay (which didn’t really go over well, but that is besides the point), before she was being ushered into the grand dinning hall already teeming with people.
Karina stood, she noticed, in a floor length, sleek black dress, looking absolutely stunning, and speaking with an older gentleman wearing a red smoking jacket and a bowler hat. When Karina laughed and took him by the arm, directing him back to the table, Anabelle recognized the man as Darren Dileero, the American film icon and movie legend.
Besides them, there was Freeguyl, in rapt conversation with Mr. August, a prune faced man she had never seen before was laughing loudly with two other old fat men that looked vaguely familiar, Theo, who stood by the fireplace, hands clasped behind his back, calmly watching the flickering flames, and Ulga, seated at the table, hunched over her iPad, no doubt doing some hideous chore for Freeguyl.
Anabelle stepped hesitantly toward the table, shivering in a sudden draft of loneliness, she looked around desperately for someone to talk to. The prune faced man caught her eyes and she turned away, meeting Karina’s instead.
Hastening toward her escape, Anabelle walked purposefully down the table, past the fireplace, and over to where Karina glided on Darren’s arm and smiled serenely. “Mr. Dileero,” she said, “this is the writer, Anabelle Greeves.”
“Mrs. Greeves,” he replied with a smile and deep bow, taking her hand in his and giving it a peck, “it is very lovely to meet you.”
“Miss.” Anabelle corrected, “I’m not married, but I prefer Anabelle in any case.” She said.
“Miss Anabelle, then.” He replied with a sly twinkling smile.
Anabelle felt herself blush and knew that she looked ridiculous. Raking her fingers up her arms the way she always did when she was nervous, and pulling her sweater sleeves back down over her hands, she stuck them in her extremely tight jeans pockets and looked at her toes.
“Well, Karina,” began Darren, “It was enchanting, I look forward to speaking again, but now I must attend to matters of the screen.” He gave a dramatic bow to each of them, doffed his hat, flashed them a dimply smile and moved toward the three old prune faced fat men laughing hysterically in the corner.
“So.” Karina stated pontifically.
“So.” Anabelle agreed whole heartedly.
They may have conversed thus for some time, but Freeguyl interrupted, barking out from across the table, “Ladies! Meet our host.”
The elder Mr. August was a kindly, finely drawn man, with lithe, long appendages and an almost egg shaped head that lent him the air of the mysterious. Seeing father and son both together, relatively attired, Anabelle could see the striking similarities in their height, demeanor and all around gorgeous bone structure.
“Gregory.” Freeguyl said, gesturing the girls over, “this is my new writer and her new writer’s assistant. Anabelle, Karina, this is Mr. Gregory August.”
“My dears.” Mr. August said, taking each of their hands in turn and squeezing them between the opposite one like a backwards, doubled up hand shake. “I so look forward to enjoying your company.”
When niether of the ladies made any reply, and since Freeguyl had wandered off, cigar smoke trailing in his wake, Mr. August smiled politely, clapped his hands once, and announced, “Let us eat.”
Anabelle, who’d never owned more than three forks in her life stared down at the five glinting up at her from the place mat. Salad, bread, and soup was sitting there, waiting, next to the five forks and the three spoons, and several other contraptions like knives and fat little tubby things that looked like knives but weren’t quite knivish enough, Anabelle thought, to be called knives, but the concepts of eating seemed to have escaped her. She watched Karina pluck the fork farthest out and begin to daintily pick at her salad. Shrugging, Anabelle attempted something similar, but upon realizing that the bit of whitish thing wasn’t in fact tofu, but chicken, paled and set her fork down. Daring to pick up a spoon she dunked it into the bowl and swished it all around until that too came up with chunky bits of flesh. Grabbing the bread, she ripped into it violently and shoved a huge glob into her mouth to keep herself from hurling upon the fancy tablecloth.
It was, of course, that moment when Jennifer Starling walked in, looking out over the parallel rows of masticators who all looked up at her resplendent form, dripping in diamonds and arm in arm with Prester Reeds himself, as she called, “I see you didn’t hold the plane for me.”
There was a moment of thick silence, all mastication halted mid chew, before Freeguyl stood, pulled out a cigar from his breast pocket, and said, “Starling, so wonderful that you made it. Please sit. You remember Mr. Gregory August?”
The Mr. August in question smiled and gave her a deep nod.
She stood there for a moment doing nothing but looking vicious and beautiful at the same time, in actuality, the overall effect of the look was slightly offset by Prester Reeds’ lackluster expression, but it was ferocious all the same.
It could have been a Mexican stand off right there in a English dining room, but finally she gave out, nodded, and pulled her boy toy along to a pair of open seats.
Anabelle tried not to simultaneously choke and vomit while watching the starlette not so surreptitiously. Jennifer Starling had gotten the lead role of Dierdre, much to Anabelle’s dismay (Diedre was not perky, ravishing, and hungry for souls), and had presisted ever since in degrading the overall quality of the character by demanding re-write after re-write after re-write.
So Anabelle figured if another, less soul sucking type of actress had gotten the part, perhaps Anabelle would have already finished the script, and in fact, be at home, in bed, with a bottle of wine and the DVD box set of Deadwood, thereby avoiding the tragic, albeit hilarious, and all over humiliating events of the next several days. Events, that at the time, staring at Jennifer Starling from across the table, Anabelle had no inkling of, but was foreshadowed none the less by the pool of vomit collecting in her stomach.
Needless to say, she wasn’t thirlled to be sharing a castle with the actress, on top of everything else. While it was true, Prester Reeds was incredibly nice to look at, there was already plenty of that going around, and Anabelle wasn’t sure how much more she could handle.
And it was, of course, of course, that moment when Prester Reeds looked up, and caught her staring, mouth full of bread and finger on her chin. She hastily looked down at her bread and began ripping it, once more, into shreds.
When she had devoured her allotted loaf, she sat and picked apart a lettuce leaf, no doubt, contaminated with particles of rotting flesh (she made a mental note to wash her hands, and her chin) and listened to the converstaion around her. In due time, the main courses were brought out and Anabelle was saddened to see only a lonely, little piece of bread, half dunked in the beef gravy sitting solemnly on her plate. So sad for it, she carefully ripped off the least contaminated parts and swallowed them whole.
When that was done, all she had left to do was stare around her morosely until Mr. August addressed her thus, “Miss Greeves, do you not find the braised beef and peas to your taste? I can have them bring you the duck d’lorange instead.”
“That isn’t necessary.” She said embarassedly, while the table at large stared at her inquisitively.
“Perhaps some smoked salmon? I know you American’s are big on your fish.” Mr. August offered with a jovial laugh.
“Oh, I’m okay.” Anabelle said, trying her best to sound convincing.
“So how long have you been a vegetarian?” Jennifer asked dryly.
Anabelle shrugged, acutely aware of the mass of faces turned her way. “Fourteen years.” She said quietly to her plate.
“A vegetarian.” Mr. August half asked, half exclaimed. “Why didn’t you say so?” Turning to the forlorn, waiting scullery maid, or whatever she was, standing just inside the doors, Mr. August declared, “Bring this young lady a meat free salad, if you please. Any other closet vegetarians?” He asked round the table. “No?” he laughed, “Just the one, then, Venita.”
“It really isn’t necessary.” Anabelle sputtered. “I don’t want to be a bother.”
“Oh! No bother. Really.” Mr. August assured her as Venita the scullery maid disappeared for the kitchens.
Anabelle frowned at her braised beef and wondered what she might ought to do, or say next. There was probably some socially appropriate quip she could make to fill the silence with something other than errant mastication, but Anabelle had never been good in social situations, ever. The truth is, for a not so brief period of her life, Anabelle’s family had considered the possibility that she was mentally, shall we say, challenged? The jury is still out for some, but the fact remains that Anabelle only acted like a normal person. When she remembered to. Which probably wasn’t so different from a normal person acting like a crazy one, but then, Anabelle was pretty sure you had to be crazy to act in the first place. Therefore, if all the world was a stage, and all the men and women but actors upon it, then everyone was crazy, so what was the point?
Which starts back over again with social awkwardness, geekery, and in summation, wallfloweritis.
Lets take a moment to diagnose.
Wallfloweritis. Hermitism, chronic shyness, characterized by bouts of self loathing and binges of chocolate consumption while lurking somewhere just out of the limelight. Often accompanied by acute spastic tendencies, normally in oration and or speech. Commonly misdiagnosed as: schizophrenia, psychotic behavior, bi-polar disorder, all around weirdness, and/or lone wolf frame of mind.
Unfortunately for Anabelle, she had no clue what she might ought to say or do next. So she sat there, and stared at her hands until the meat free salad was presented to her with a flourish.
“I hope you find this one better than the last.” Mr. August commented, mouth full of braised beef.
Anabelle plastered a smile on her face and set out to eating quietly, imagining her re-write in her mind’s eye.
The storm overtook them by the late afternoon, and they both agreed it would be fortuitous to stop at a passing inn.
Upon entering the establishment, Dierdre, realizing it was more tavern than inn, was reluctant, but her company, such as he was, adamantly insisted, rather publicly, and purchased two rooms, two pints, and two bowls of stew.
Repulsed by the gamey broth, Dierdre sat in a corner, nursed her ale, and brooded, while the insufferable Driver drank and danced to the lively country players across the hall.
When she tired, and stood to make for her room, he stopped her. “Come lass!” He called, loudly, despite the fact that he was very close indeed. “Lets have a dance.”
When she hesitated, a drunken voice called out over the din, “Dance with him love!”, a cheer picked up among the debauchateaurs, and the Driver took her in hand, swinging her out onto the dance floor.
The players began a rapid tune and the room began to blur as the Driver twirled her like a spinning top from one end of the hall to the other. Revelers and drunken peasants roared with laughter as she stumbled into a table.
She may have screamed, except that the Driver was very quite nimble, and despite the fact that she had hit the table, he stopped her almost immediately and righted her effortlessly, swinging her back into a dip that lasted a second too long and might have, just a little, taken her breath away.
When that moment was over, however, she whacked him over the head with her clutch and divested herself of his arms, stumbling backwards over the wood floor, heaving disingenuously, she shook her head. “Goodnight, driver.” She acknowledged, for lack of anything better.
“Goodnight.” He smiled and gave her a small bow.