"But she just…she doesn't seem to fit. It's Miranda's story, not Jean's."
He nodded. "And you know that already?"
She felt herself backing down, smaller, somehow, underneath his cobalt stare. His eyes probed her, challenged her. "I…think so…"
This earned her a sarcastic grin. "Conviction. That's what I like to see in a writer. OK. Instinct is good. It can be very good. So try it. Toss Jean and see how it feels."
"The thing is…" She felt her throat closing into that squeak again. She vowed never to squeak in Drew Anthony's strange little house again. "I…well…I…there are so many missing pieces in Miranda's story. In her life."
"She has amnesia?" Drew said, obviously playing with her for the amusement of the group. Dionne smiled, Rupert quickly followed. Sam ducked her head.
Of course not, you asshole, she wants to say. Instead, she squeaks out a little, "No…." when he didn't respond, just stared in her direction, she added, "There are things I don't know about Miranda's life."
Those eyes bore into her, utterly fascinated. Or at least that's the face he was putting on. For all she knew – and this was a distinct feeling she was getting – he was a spectacular actor and was bored silly by her whole lame attempt at writing a novel that was clearly way out of her league. "So ask her," he said.
Jess's eyebrows scrunched together. "Ask her."
"Why not?" he said. "She's telling you her story, is she not?"
Just go with it, her instincts said. She sighed. "Well…of course, but…"
Sam wiggled her little hand in the air, a few inches above her head, as if asking for permission to go to the toilet. "Could I…" Drew nodded. Jessie could almost feel Sam perspiring. She drew her hands down the length of her thighs and left them there, cupped around her kneecaps. "Um…we did that last time…it really helped me to interview the Emerald Fairy, to find out why she wanted to leave paradise…"
"And if I remember correctly, Sam," Drew said, "You had a major breakthrough following that."
Sam smiled shyly, the apples of her cheekbones and the tip of her elfin nose pinking. Jess wished she could blush like that. A dainty little pink trimming, a teensy brushstroke, instead of her whole face inflaming to the color of a pomegranite.
"Well. If everyone's had their say about your writing weeks, why don't we do that exercise tonight?"
He led them through the standard relaxation…close the eyes, feet on the floor, let the body go limp. Just like she'd done at her mother's house last night. She'd tried to hone in on the sounds in Drew's house, but as soon as she got a bead on something – the whir and hum of the radiator kicking on – he began talking softly, leading them on another adventure. He took them into a plush and private room, one that's complete with everything that makes you comfortable. Jess pictured her mother's sunroom, and she was sitting in her favorite chair with one of Carol's cats on her lap, Bear, the tortie with fur as soft as a cloud and a lovely musical purr. And then, a person walks into the room. Maybe you catch a whiff of perfume or aftershave, or some distinctive scent. Jess smelled the sweet stench of alcohol on someone's breath, mixed with perfume. You take in every detail of this person…while he or she takes a measure of you. Jess saw Mirabella in her favorite outfit, a silky pair of black slacks with a matching top, wrapped dramatically with a wildly colored scarf – hand painted by a local artisan – and pinned with her mother's brooch. Her hair was all done up, the still dark curls cascading free, and her makeup there but not too there, the way it sometimes was. Introduce yourself, and invite this person to sit beside you. And when you feel comfortable, begin asking questions, and listen carefully for the answers.
Then Drew stopped. Jess let her mind float free, watching Mirabella move – the grace taught to her so many years ago still remained, and the glided across the floor, her sexy shoes barely making as much as a click. Jess swayed slightly, as she did last night, trying to recapture that feeling, that open feeling that would allow Mirabella in.
Mirabella set a manicured hand on Jessie's knee. Bear continued purring, as if he sensed Mirabella was another person he could trust.
"Honeycakes, we can dispense with the introductions."
Jessie was floored. She was there! Mirabella was actually there! But she was afraid that if she thought about that too much, she would vanish in a puff of perfumed smoke. So she continued with her breathing, as Drew had instructed.
"I miss you," Jessie asked in her mind.
"Oh, and you, too, doll."
"You wanted me to tell your story…"
Mirabella smiled a Cheshire cat grin. "But you are! Just look at you go. Working with that famous and might I add very handsome author. Excellent job."
Jess eased open one eye a fraction. Drew was sscribbling something in his sketchpad/notebook. Damn. Mirabella was right.
"Eyes over here, darling," Mirabella said. "Feast later, when I'm gone."
That blush again. She even blushed at people who lived in her head! "Oh, but…I wouldn't…I mean, there's Luke. We're practically married…"
Miranda gave her a sly look. "What does that pretty black girl sing? 'If you like it, then put a ring on it?' Something like that. And I don't see a ring on that beautiful hand of yours."
"Mirabella, stop! I was hoping we could talk about you."
"But I'm so terribly boring. Him, I want to hear more about."
Jess was starting to get a feeling that this whole exercise was going terribly wrong. "But…if you want me to write your story, I need to know more about your life."
Mirabella leaned back in the lounger. Carol's other cat, Alice, jumped into Mirabella's lap, and instead of shooing her away to prevent shedding hair, she merely stroked her fur absent-mindedly, but Jessie could tell that her mind was still mentally undressing her writing teacher.
"I'm waiting, honey. You've got the floor. Althought I wouldn't mind getting him on the floor."
"OK. Last night I envisioned your wedding in my head."
"I was a beautiful bride."
"Yes, you were. I loved the dress."
"Half-price. At a bridal warehouse in Brooklyn."
"OK, so you told me a little bit about how you met your ex-husband. But to tell your story right, I need to know about your marriage. About him. What happened."
Mirabella's face turned to stone. Her hand not only stopped stroking Alice, but she shooed her off her lap rather firmly. Mewling, Alice trotted off and Bear hopped off of Jessie and followed him. Then, she said in an icy tone, "You'll have to ask him."
It was useless. Mirabella's image began to fade, to wither into a ghostly pale reminder.
She was gone. Jess could still smell the whiff of perfume and rum. And the chair, still rocking from her huffy retreat, rocked itself into stillness.
Jess was left in her mother's sunroom, alone.
She kept up her breathing, kept her muscles loose, swayed a little as she honed into the musicality of the radiator, but she couldn't get Mirabella back. And she had this awful sense that she'd never see the woman again.
When Drew gently suggested they begin writing, Jess scribbled down the few things she'd experienced – Bear's soft fur, the brook babbling nearby, Mirabella's entrance, the scent of her perfume, her interest in Drew…and then how she'd vanished when Jessie asked the one question she so desperately wanted to know. Tears welled up behind her eyes.
Drew called time, and ask that they bring their writing to a close, making notes for later if they needed to. When she looked up, she felt like she'd just woken up from a deep sleep and couldn't quite place where she was. A tear had splashed onto her notebook, dissolving a splotch of ink. She rummaged around for a tissue.
"Well. From the looks of some of you, that seemed powerful. His gaze locked on hers. She blushed, and ducked her head. "Jessie, would you like to read?"
"Pass," she said, dabbing at her eyes.