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Stargazers III: Sample Chapter

Chapter One: Emerald/Summer, 1988

At the age of 35, Emerald Brent was satisfied with her life. After ten years of marriage she was still very much in love with her husband, Terry, as he was with her. Thanks to Terry's classified job as a technician for the government on Mare Island Naval Base, and Emerald's own job as a copywriter for Santa Rosa's only large advertising agency, they were able to remodel their little house until it was no longer recognizable as the delapidated bargain they had squeezed out a down payment for ten years earlier. There were a couple of years at the beginning when Emerald hadn't been certain the mortgage would be paid. They'd made it, though; and now there were only two things Emerald would have asked for. The baby she had already named Elizabeth, and for Lesley to return from New York.

Emerald wasn't selfish; if Lesley were doing well she would have been thrilled for her. But everything seemed to be falling apart -- every letter or telephone call had been increasingly vague, and now Emerald hadn't heard from her friend in nearly a month. She was beginning to feel that perhaps she had been wrong to allow Lesley to go to New York, but she still couldn't figure out how she might have stopped her. Ever since the divorce, Lesley just hadn't been the same. It was Adam's fault, of course. Then again, they had been married very young...how could any of them, Adam included, know that he would turn out to have such strange and varied sexual tastes?

When Terry came home from work that evening, Emerald was sitting at the desk in her office, trying to write Lesley a letter. Terry leaned down and kissed her, sitting on a small, puffy loveseat in the bow-window of the office. "Been home long?"

Emerald looked up and her brown eyes met his deep-blue ones. She grinned. "No, I haven't started dinner."

"So I see. Would you like to help me do it?"

"Not particularly. Let's order a pizza." Terry looked unconvinced. "Chinese food? Don' wanna cook, teddy bear."

Terry sighed and hauled his six-foot-two-inch frame out of the loveseat. "OK, I'll go get a beer. You bring work home again?"

Emerald abandoned the letter and followed him into the kitchen. "No, I'm trying to write a letter to Lesley."
Terry let the refrigerator door close and popped the top on a can of Coors. He frowned, sitting in one of the wooden basket chairs at the antique pine table. "Haven't heard from her yet?"

"No...do you think something's wrong?"

"Yes. I wonder what, though. Surely, if she was really in trouble, she'd call us."

"Would she? When have you ever known Lesley to rely on anyone? When has she ever had anyone she could rely on? She never had any parents that she knew of, and then Adam let her down."

Terry snorted. "Anyone could've told her he would. He was nothing but an opportunist. Let's hope she doesn't run into him in New York. I heard he went into Public Relations there."

Emerald nodded. "And now Charley -- why can't she find a man who doesn't take advantage of her?"

"You don't have any proof that Charley has, yet."

"He's a creep, though. You said so yourself."

Terry nodded. "Let's go have hamburgers."

"OK. Anything not to cook."

The next day, Emerald received a letter from Lesley. Since she had been working late, she arrived home at 7:30 to find Terry making steaks and corn, and a green salad. She knew she should feel guilty because she never started dinner when she was the one to arrive first; but she didn't. She wasn't the domestic type, and would be the first to admit it. But she was good at home decorating -- no one could deny that; and she had done the entire house herself. Well, mostly herself -- Terry had done all the mechanical and heavy-labor parts. When it came to the painting, and wallpapering, and actual furnishing of the rooms, Emerald chose everything. And she thought she had done a good job, too -- one a professional decorator could have been proud of.

Emerald Brent would have been the last person in the world to believe she was a beauty in any way, although people had been known to say she was pretty (well, a lot of people, to tell the truth). But she was hardly in the current style -- she was too short and a little too round. Her chestnut-brown hair was curly and luxuriant, however, and took to any style well. At the moment she was wearing it shoulder length and cut short and fluffy on the top and sides, but for years she had worn it quite short all over. And she had a definite flair for fashion, and knew it. Not for her dark colors and shapeless dresses, or polyester elastic-waist slacks because she carried too many pounds on her tiny frame. She was a firm believer that women of any size could look good if they dressed with confidence and taste, and she had proven the maxim. According to the popular fashion magazines, it was difficult for overweight women to "make it" in the business world, particularly in "glamour" fields like advertising. Well, Emerald had proven them wrong in that, too. Now...she was becoming restless. The next step up the ladder in advertising from copywriter was account executive, and that was something Emerald had no desire to tackle. The only reason she liked being a copywriter was because it had a modicum of creativity to it -- but she wasn't cut out for the corporate world, and account executives were corporate, even if they were part of advertising.

She had been hoping that the novel she and Lesley wrote together, Beyond the Glass Rainbow, was going to be her ticket out of advertising and Lesley's ticket out of her endless search for the man who could most take advantage of her.

As she pulled her new 1989 Plymouth Sundance into the driveway, Emerald knew she was being unfair to Lesley. She tended to forget that her friend and collaborator was nearly eight years younger than she was herself, and she expected the younger woman to have her life in gear. Then again, Lesley did seem to come up against a lot more brick walls than most people -- and then try to butt them down with no weapon but her admittedly hard head.

The letter was waiting for her. Emerald sat down at the kitchen table and accepted the glass of Cabernet Blanc Terry set in front of her. She unfolded the letter and began to read. She had learned to read a lot more into Lesley's scant lines than she ever wrote on the page, but it had taken awhile.

Dear Auntie Em:

I'm definitely not in Kansas anymore, and it seems I've lost Toto somewhere. Tara is behaving very strangely and doesn't return any of my telephone calls. I suspect something is wrong with Rainbow, but have heard nothing. Gotham Press seems to be going through some kind of shakeup, and last week they told me that we would be assigned a new editor -- I cannot locate Gregory, and the last time I telephoned they told me he was no longer with the company.

What this means in terms of our beloved book I have no idea -- if they have some strange notion that I (we, I should say) are going to return the advance money, they have another think coming. Besides, it's all gone. Yes, this little girl is broke city. Charlie has disappeared somewhere into the Soho night and I am wondering what happened to him, too, since he took none of his clothes. If all this sounds very strange to you, my staid/married/California friend, I have a feeling it will get wierder before it gets normaler (does that have two lls, I wonder?). Stay tuned to this station...Dorothy (Lesley in Wonderland)

Emerald laid the sheet of lined notebook paper on the tablecloth, and sipped her glass of wine. Terry looked over from where he was slicing green onions for his salad. "So -- how's everything in the Rotten Apple?"

"Not good, Batman. Our editor seems to have gotten himself caught in a shake-up (or maybe it's a shakedown) at Gotham Press. Lesley can't find him, and Tara won't talk to her."

Terry pushed the onions off the chopping board into a glass salad bowl, and went to the sink to wash a bunch of radishes. "What does that mean? You know this publishing stuff really confuses my puny brain."

Emerald chuckled inwardly at her husband's "puny" brain -- the one that could remember complex mathematical formulae and adjust the callibration of a nuclear submarine gas-monitor so it wouldn't blow up hundreds of marines. "I don't have the slightest idea, myself -- and it's certain from this letter that Lesley doesn't, either. And she's out of money."

"Then she'll have to come back to California, won't she? Maybe you can get her a job at the agency."

Emerald frowned slightly. "I don't think Lesley is the nine-to-five type."

"She'll just have to be."

"Terry, we're talking about Lesley here. It seems unlikely she'll do what other people want her to, just because it's the most sensible thing to do."

Terry grunted and crossed to the refrigerator to get out bottles of salad dressing. Emerald assumed the discussion was over, and went into the bedroom to change into her jeans and a sweatshirt.